Europe's Bishops Make 'Proposal for a Communion' With Migrants

«To welcome means to love, to take seriously the humanity of people, allowing each of them to be themselves. It means to let the other person exist without feeling threatened by his or her own difference»

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A two-day meeting of bishops and delegates responsible for the pastoral care of migrants of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences in Europe concluded Wednesday.

Here is the statement from the meeting:

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The approach to migration in Europe is affected by a kind of schizophrenia. While the EU recognizes more and more rights to regular immigrants, the ‘fortress Europe’ continues to deal with human mobility as a purely economic issue. Migrants are not a commodity that you can import and export at will! An approach to the phenomenon of migration that fails to take into account all the dimensions of the human person and the social and cultural reality of each nation is expected to generate exclusion, marginalization and social tensions. The pastoral approach proposed by the Church expects of the players involved a realistic focus on the reality of the individual persons and the communities of migrants, thus avoiding to reduce the problematic nature of the issue to purely economic, sociological or political assessments. This is what emerged in a two day meeting sponsored by the Council of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE), for bishops and national directors of the pastoral care of migrants and refugees of the European Bishops’ Conferences, which was held in Mosta (Malta) on December 2-4 , 2013.

In Malta, the bishops and delegates for the pastoral care of migrants expressed their concern for all situations where refugees or asylum seekers are not respected in their dignity. The European policy and the policy of the individual Member States can only be based on respect for the individuals, and the recognition of the value and importance of the family. Each migratory movement should take place in a legal framework. Otherwise the public order of the countries of destination is likely to be threatened, making these countries less attractive for immigration. In any case, the criteria of love and lawfulness must always be observed.

A sound migration policy should encourage an active participation of migrants in society and facilitate their integration in the labour market. A permanent activity that allows for their livelihood or responds to the needs of their family is fundamental in their process of integration: it is, in fact, the primary means to enable the immigrant to start a ‘new life’. At the same time, this policy must always be accompanied by the fight against the various forms of economic and social injustice, within the individual countries and globally (exploitation of whole regions, destruction of the environment in many poor countries, unjust wars …).

To the many refugees who arrive in Europe through its Southern and Eastern borders, the Church strives, as much as she can, to be active with different initiatives (reception centers, hostels, children’s guest houses, language courses… ). Obviously, the Church does not intend to replace the State, but she cannot avoid being called into question by human suffering, whether it is material or spiritual. The Church has a vocation to be close, to reach out and accompany the journey of every human being, following her Lord. In this direction, special attention was given to the theme ‘the family and migration’. An adequate pastoral care of migrants cannot disregard their need for affection, for having a family and being part of a community.

At the same time, migration is a real challenge for the Christian community because it calls into question its ability to accept and deal with the difference. Pluralism should not be perceived as a conflict of antagonistic realities, but as a complementarity of multiform riches. On the other hand, the participants repeatedly insisted that we should not be contented with offering what we have, but we must learn to give what we are. To welcome means to love, to take seriously the humanity of people, allowing each of them to be themselves. It means to let the other person exist without feeling threatened by his or her own difference.

For many years, the Church has been building relations between the communities of origin and the communities of destination. Cooperation between the local Churches is increasingly becoming a ground of pastoral work. This cooperation is not required by sociological needs or reasons of effectiveness. What is at stake is the very being and identity of the Church. Cooperation, when understood in this way, is not only giving, it is also receiving: immigrants certainly need help, but they are also a resource for the communities that welcome them in the right way.

Finally, it is important to give content to the words we use. Terms such as ‘assimilation’, ‘integration’, ‘inclusion’, are often inadequate or incomplete, especially when used within the Church. The culture of encounter, whose method is reaching out and taking care of others, expects that the phenomenon of migration is perceived not only as a challenge that calls for charity, but also as an opportunity for enriching our ecclesial communion.

During the meeting, sponsored by the «Migration» Section, Caritas in Veritate CCEE Commission, presided over by Cardinal Josip Bozanic, Archbishop of Zagreb, the participants visited a closed center of Hal Safi for asylum seekers and an open center in Balzan, which is run by the local Church. In particular, the center of Balzan is a successful example of how to combine evangelization and social action: faith producing works and works bearing witness to the faith.

The meeting was held in Malta at the invitation of the local Archbishop, Mgr. Paul Cremona, and the President of the Maltese Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Mgr. Mario Grech, Bishop of Gozo, and was organized by Mgr. Alfred Vella, Director of the «Malta Emigrants» Commission. It was attended by the leaders of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants: its president, Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò, and its under-secretary, Mgr. Gabriele Ferdinando Bentoglio. The speakers of the meeting included: MP Emanuel Mallia, Minister of Interior and National Security of the Republic of Malta, MP Helena Dalli, Minister of Social Policies, Consumers Protection and Civil Freedom of the Republic of Malta, Ambassador José Angel Oropeza Rojas, Director of the IOM Office of Coordination for the Mediterranean Region and IOM Head of Delegation in Italy and Malta, Mgr. Ciriaco Benavente Mateos, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Migration in Spain, and Prof. Laura Zanfrini, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, Italy.

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