Pope Francis called Europe “elderly and haggard” and said the continent is in need of immigration reform.
The pontiff in an address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg Tuesday said this year alone that at least 3,000 migrants have died trying to reach Italian shores, as he demanded the Mediterranean not be allowed to become a “vast cemetery.”
He warned that inaction on immigration concerns risked furthering slave labor conditions and exacerbating social tensions.
The Argentine-born pope chose the tiny southern Italian island of Lampedusa, which many migrants have died trying to reach, as the venue for his first papal trip outside Rome last year.
A Member of European Parliament, Jean-Luc Melenchon, was critical of the pope’s remarks, saying he thought the pope was coming to meet parliamentarians, but instead preached a monologue sermon.
Another member of Parliament said in an open letter that he would have preferred the pontiff’s holding Mass rather than coming to parliament.
Political analysts say European leaders have faced strong anti-immigration pressures and noted anti-immigrant riots have erupted in recent days in Rome’s poor peripheral neighborhoods.