VATICAN CITY—Pope Francis has defined hostility and rejection of refugees and migrants as sin, encouraging people to overcome their “fully comprehensible” fears that these new arrivals might “disturb the established order” of local communities.

At his invitation, several thousand migrants, refugees and immigrants from 49 countries joined Francis at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday, a day the Catholic Church dedicated to the issues and contributions of those who leave homelands in hope of a better life.

New arrivals must “know and respect the laws, the culture and the traditions of the countries that take them in,” he said. Local communities must “open themselves without prejudices to their rich diversity, to understand the hopes and potential of the newly arrived as well as their fears and vulnerabilities.”

“It is not easy to enter into another culture, to put oneself in the shoes of people so different from us, to understand their thoughts and their experiences,” Francis said.

“As a result, we often refuse to encounter the other and raise barriers to defend ourselves. Local communities are sometimes afraid that the newly arrived with disturb the established order, will ‘steal’ something they have long labored to build up.”

Similarly, he said, newcomers also are afraid: “of confrontation, judgment, discrimination, failure.”

“These fears are legitimate, based on doubts that are fully comprehensible from a human point of view,” Francis continued in his homily.

“Having doubts and fears is not a sin,” the pope said. “The sin is to allow these fears to determine our responses, to limit our choices, to compromise respect and generosity, to feed hostility and rejection.”

Francis elaborated: “The sin is to refuse to encounter the other, the different, the neighbor,” instead of seeing it as a “privileged opportunity” to encounter God.

In his almost five-year-old papacy, Francis has stressed the Catholic church’s mission to welcome vulnerable and marginalized people. His focus comes as wealthier countries, including several European Union nations and the U.S., are intent on increasing physical or legal barriers to migrants.

Later, greeting about 25,000 people in St. Peter’s Square, Francis advocated responding to the migrations that “today are a sign of our times” in four ways: “welcome, protect, promote and integrate” migrants.

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Frances D’Emilio is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio

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