ROME -- Pope Francis criticized the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the Mexican border in an exclusive interview with Reuters published today.
Pope Francis also told Reuters that he is "on the side of the bishops' conference" in the U.S., which has said separating children from their parents is "immoral" and "contrary to our Catholic values."
U.S. Catholic bishops –- along with other religious leaders -- are among those condemning President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" policy, which has resulted in more than 2,000 children being separated from their parents at the border.
In the interview with Reuters, which touched on a number of other topics, the pope clearly expressed concern about Trump’s immigration policy. He said that while he recognized solving the problem is not easy, populism is not the answer to the world's immigration problems.
"Populism does not resolve things. What resolves things is acceptance, study, prudence," he told Reuters.
The pontiff said that populists were "creating psychosis" about immigration and that Europe's aging population faces "a great demographic winter" and could "become empty" without immigrants.
The U.S. move to curb illegal immigration comes at a time when governments in Western Europe -- including Italy with its new populist government -- are also trying to stop hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving by sea from poorer countries in the Middle East and Africa.
"I believe that you cannot reject people who arrive. You have to receive them, help them, look after them, accompany them and then see where to put them, but throughout all of Europe," Pope Francis said in the interview.
Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has repeatedly spoken out in support of migrants and refugees. His first symbolic trip as pontiff was to the tiny island of Lampedusa, where many migrants first arrive on Italian soil.
Just last week, writing to the participants of a Vatican conference on international migration, Francis reiterated that the fundamental rights and dignity of immigrants "need to be protected and defended."
"Finally, I would like to point out that the issue of migration is not simply one of numbers, but of persons, each with his or her own history, culture, feelings and aspirations … These persons, our brothers and sisters, need 'ongoing protection,' independently of whatever migrant status they may have," Francis wrote in the June 14 message.
In the same message, he called for the "shared global management of international migration in the values of justice, solidarity, and compassion" and mentioned two U.N. plans aimed at helping migrants and refugees that are expected to be launched later this year.
He also stressed that "particular concern must be shown for migrant children and their families."
Calling for a change of mindset, he added: "We must move from considering others as threats to our comfort to valuing them as persons whose life experience and values can contribute greatly to the enrichment of our society."