Pope Francis defended refugees on Sunday, calling their expulsion “scandalous, vile, and wicked,” putting him at odds with Italy’s incoming right-wing government.
Francis made his remarks when canonizing a 19th-century bishop regarded as the “Father of Migrants” and a 20th-century man who cared for the ill in Argentina.
Francis, who has made migrant support a central focus of his papacy, presided over the service in St. Peter’s Square in front of 50,000 people.
“The exclusion of migrants is scandalous. Indeed, the exclusion of migrants is criminal. It makes them die in front of us,” he said.
“And so today the Mediterranean is the world’s largest cemetery,” he said, referring to thousands who have drowned trying to reach Europe.
“The exclusion of migrants is disgusting, it is sinful. It is criminal not to open doors to those who are needy,” he said.
Giorgia Meloni is expected to become prime minister later this month at the head of a right-wing coalition that has vowed to crack down on immigration and tighten Italy’s borders.
She has promised accelerated repatriations and tighter asylum rules. Meloni has also called for a naval blockade of North Africa to prevent migrants from sailing and for renewed curbs on charity rescue ships.
Francis, who did not mention Italy, said some migrants sent back are put in “concentration camps where they are exploited and treated as slaves.” In the past he has said this has happened in Libya.
The pope deviated from his prepared remarks regarding migrants when he named the most well-known of the two new saints, Bishop Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, who flourished between 1839 and 1905.
Scalabrini established two religious organizations, one of priests and the other of nuns, to assist Italian immigrants in the United States and South America.
Artemides Zatti, who lived between 1880 and 1951, is the other new saint. His family moved to Argentina after fleeing poverty in Italy.
He was a lay member of the Salesian monastic order who worked as a nurse on his bicycle, giving healthcare to the needy.