ROME — Pope Francis defended “modern multilateral diplomacy” and international institutions against “the resurgence of nationalistic tendencies” in a major address at the Vatican on Monday.
Francis did not cite specific countries in his speech, delivered to diplomats at the Holy See, but he appeared to be lamenting the mix of jingoism and isolationism that has emerged in the United States and in European nations where populist governments have risen to power.
He noted that The League of Nations, established after World War I, had failed to head off another war largely because countries were not willing to work together, Francis raised the specter of fresh violence.
“The same attitudes are presently threatening the stability of the major international organizations,” he said, urging Europeans in particular to remain united in the face of
“temptation to erect new curtains.”
His remarks especially hit a nerve in Italy, where the populist government has cracked down on immigration and denied port entry to vessels that rescue migrants seeking to enter Europe. One such boat, the Sea Watch 3, has been stalled in the Mediterranean awaiting a safe port of call for more than two weeks.
Several Italian bishops and cardinals have urged the authorities to allow the migrants to dock in Italy, and many offered to take the migrants into their parishes.
Francis issued his own appeal on Sunday, asking European leaders to “show some concrete solidarity” with the migrants.
The pope seemed to be adding his voice to a growing chorus of criticism within Italy of the leadership of Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, the hard-line leader of the anti-immigrant League party and the most powerful politician in the country.
Last week, the mayor of Palermo, Sicily, said that a new security law championed by Mr. Salvini that deprived shelter and aid to migrants was inhumane and risked increasing crime. He was soon followed by other mayors, including those of Florence and Naples, who proposed sending smaller boats to pick up exhausted migrants if they made it close enough to Italy.
Mr. Salvini, who has increasingly depicted himself as Italy’s law-and-order strongman, lashed out at the growing opposition, saying the critics were disregarding the law.
“Almost a million people have landed in Italy in recent years,” Mr. Salvini said in a Facebook live video last Sunday. “We need to be merciful to the five million Italians who live in poverty.”
“For traffickers of human beings and their accomplices, Italian ports were, are and will be closed,” he said, slapping down his coalition partner, Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star movement, who had said that Italy was open to taking 10 women and children from the aid vessels once they had disembarked in Malta.
In his speech on Monday, the pope acknowledged the concerns in Europe and North America about migrants, but urged sympathy for them, saying governments should help those fleeing poverty, violence and natural disasters.
“I do not believe that partial solutions can exist for so universal an issue,” he said. “Recent events have shown the need for a common, concerted response by all countries, without exception and with respect for every legitimate aspiration, whether of states or of migrants and refugees themselves.”
Francis also nodded to the sex abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church that increasingly threatens to erode his authority and ability to speak out on global issues.
In February, the heads of some 110 bishops’ conferences are to gather in the Vatican. Francis said on Monday that the discussions would be held to “shed full light on the facts and to alleviate the wounds caused by such crimes.”
But he focused, for the most part, on a global message against the resurgence of nationalism and its impact on international institutions and law.
“The reappearance of these impulses today is progressively weakening the multilateral system,” he said. “It results in a general lack of trust, a crisis of credibility in international political life, and a gradual marginalization of the most vulnerable members of the family of nations.”