Pope Francis faces tepid welcome in migrant-wary Poland

A portrait of Pope Francis hanging in Warsaw’s St. Saviour Church is flanked by another, much larger one, showing the smiling late Polish-born pontiff and saint, John Paul II.


In Poland, Karol Wojtyla is still “The Pope”.


Experts say Francis will have a hard time winning over hearts and minds in the devout central European country as he arrives Wednesday for his first visit, part of the week-long World Youth Day faith extravaganza.


While Poland shunned refugees over alleged security risks amid Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II, Francis encouraged open doors and charity for those fleeing conflict — regardless of their faith.


Howls of criticism — and even hate speech — went up in ethnically homogenous, conservative Poland when the Catholic faithful saw Francis washing the feet of three Muslim asylum seekers during Easter celebrations in Italy.


The deeply Christian gesture, modelled on Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, triggered an unprecedented level of online vitriol against a pontiff, says Ignacy Dudkiewicz, an editor for the Kontakt magazine, focused on progressive young Catholics in Warsaw.


“Francis has been dragged through the mud because of his position on refugees,” he told AFP.


Staunchly opposed to accepting refugees, the strongly Catholic rightwing government of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo released 803,000 euros ($883,000) in funds for camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey just ahead of Francis’s arrival.


But critics said the move was more a gesture than a real attempt to ease the plight of refugees.


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