Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis this week launched a two-year education campaign about the plight of migrants to counteract mounting anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. and Europe, urging the world: “Don’t be afraid!”

Francis posed for selfies, shook hands, kissed babies and hugged migrants at the end of his weekly general audience Wednesday, teaching by example that “others” are not to be feared but embraced.

The campaign, spearheaded by the Vatican’s Caritas charity, encourages people to meet with migrants and listen to their stories, rather than treat them as statistics clouded by negative stereotypes.

Francis, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, urged individuals and governments to open their arms and welcome migrants and share in their plight, as Jesus did. Throwing his arms open as he spoke, Francis said migrants are driven by the very Christian virtue of hope to find a better life, and said receiving countries should share in that hope by welcoming them and integrating them.

“Brothers, don’t be afraid of sharing the journey. Don’t be afraid of sharing hope,” he told the crowd in St. Peter’s Square.

The church is undertaking the campaign amid a hardening of anti-immigrant sentiment in the West.

In German’s election Sunday, the nationalist, anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party secured seats in that country’s parliament for the first time. In the U.S., President Trump is pressing for sweeping limits on immigration, including restricting travel from Muslim and other countries and slashing refugee admissions.

Francis has repeatedly urged countries to welcome migrants and stop collective expulsions, saying migrants’ dignity and right to protection outweigh national security concerns. At the same time, he has acknowledged that governments must manage refugee flows “with prudence,” taking into account how many people it can successfully integrate into society.

Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, who heads Caritas, choked up during the Vatican launch of the campaign, recalling that his grandfather migrated to the Philippines from China as a “young, poor boy.”

After regaining his composure, Tagle took aim at anti-immigrant politicians.

“Why are you afraid? The migrant that you are rejecting might be contributing to that community,” he said. “Don’t close the doors. You might be closing the doors to people who might enrich your society.”