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FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis blesses a child as he arrives to lead the Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican, June 13, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis called on Thursday for a "change in mindset" on migration policies, saying international cooperation was vital, as Italy and France engaged in a diplomatic spat over the issue.
Francis made his comments in a message to participants at a conference on international migration being held in the Vatican. He called for the "shared global management of international migration in the values of justice, solidarity and compassion".
Italy summoned France's envoy on Wednesday and angrily rejected French criticism of its immigration policies, escalating a diplomatic row that is widening one of Europe's main political fault lines.
A day after French President Emmanuel Macron said Rome had acted with "cynicism and irresponsibility" by closing its ports to a migrant ship, Italy's economy minister cancelled a Paris meeting with his counterpart and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte weighed postponing a meeting with Macron scheduled for Friday.
Francis, who has made defence of migrants and refugees a major plank of his papacy, said overcoming the current migration crisis "demands a change in mindset".
He said countries "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."
Rome's clash with Paris centres on the charity ship Aquarius, which both Italy and Malta refused to let dock at their ports. It was carrying 629 migrants and is now heading to Spain, which offered safe harbour, escorted by two Italian ships.
The pope said the trans-national dimension of the migration crisis required "the assistance of the entire international community" because it exceeded the capacity of individual states.
"Such international cooperation is important at every stage of migration: from departing one’s country of origin all the way to reaching one’s destination, as well as facilitating reentry and transit," Francis said.
"In each of these countries, migrants are vulnerable, feeling alone and isolated. The recognition of this fact is vitally important if we wish to give a concrete and dignified response to this humanitarian challenge," he said.
The conference, organised by the Vatican and Mexico, was attended by many ambassadors accredited to the Vatican.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella, editing by Larry King)