Less than two weeks ago they were violent racists.

In a nuanced address Sunday for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis seemed to walk back earlier statements denouncing “xenophobia,” acknowledging instead that fears associated with mass migration are logical and justifiable.

“Local communities are sometimes afraid that the newly arrived will disturb the established order, will ‘steal’ something they have long laboured to build up,” Francis said in a Mass celebrated with migrants and refugees living in Rome Sunday. “These fears are legitimate, based on doubts that are fully comprehensible from a human point of view.”

Whereas it is normal to experience these fears, the Pope said in his homily, it may be wrong to let them control our actions.

“Having doubts and fears is not a sin,” he 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. The sin is to refuse to encounter the other, the different, the neighbour, when this is in fact a privileged opportunity to encounter the Lord.”

Earlier this month the Pope criticized those who challenge the wisdom of mass migration, accusing them of demagoguery and promoting xenophobia.

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