Pope John Paul II chastised Western nations Friday for their crackdowns on immigration, declaring that the world’s wealthiest nations have a moral duty to care for the needy - no matter what their nationality.
“Who is my neighbor? The neighbor is every human being, without exception,” John Paul told hundreds of bishops from around the world and about 6,000 others packed inside Notre Dame Cathedral for the beatification of a lay charity worker.
“It is not necessary to ask his nationality, or to which social or religious group he belongs. If he is in need, he must be helped,” the pontiff said.
In Paris for the celebration of a Catholic youth festival, John Paul also set aside time Friday for a private visit to the grave of a friend - a French geneticist who crusaded against abortion.
The pope spent 12 minutes praying at the tomb of Jerome Lejeune, who in 1959 discovered the defect that causes Down Syndrome, and later emerged as a fierce opponent of abortion.
All news media were banned from the pope’s visit to the cemetery at Chalo-Saint-Mars, about 40 miles southeast of Paris, where he was joined by Lejeune’s relatives, and the pope made no comment about abortion.
But abortion rights groups and the French Socialist Party spoke out against the visit, the most hotly debated aspect of the pontiff’s fourday French visit.
“Such a step can only provoke uneasiness,” the Socialists said in a statement. It “risks encouraging in our country the determination of those who are leading a battle marked by intolerance.”
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls sought to play down any controversy, saying the pope made the visit “for one reason only: personal friendship.”
Earlier in the day, the pope used his homily at Notre Dame Cathedral to challenge rising political pressure in Europe, the United States and elsewhere, to crack down on immigrants.
During a three-hour ceremony beatifying Frederic Ozanam, a step just short of sainthood, John Paul noted that as the founder of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a charity active worldwide, Ozanam took up the cause of “those with no one to care for them.”
“He understood that charity must lead to efforts to remedy injustice,” the pope said.