In a striking gesture Wednesday, Pope Francis invited fourteen African migrants to join him on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, urging Europe to open its doors to more refugees.

The fourteen migrants were guests of Caritas of Florence and the European university, and carried banners of the charity that is caring for them along with Vatican flags. On arriving in St. Peter’s Square, Francis embraced them and then asked them to accompany him to his chair and remain near him during his weekly catechesis and greetings.

Comparing the refugees with him to modern “lepers,” the Pope stressed that Jesus would touch those who were excluded, but modern Christians seldom do.

“How many times we meet a poor person who comes to us!” Francis said in his address. “We can even be generous and compassionate, but usually we do not touch them. We offer money, we drop it there, but we avoid touching their hand. And we forget that this is the body of Christ!”

“Jesus teaches us to not be afraid to touch the poor and the marginalized, because He is in them,” he continued. “Touching the poor person can purify us from hypocrisy and make us more concerned for his situation.”

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