The document, entitled “Welcoming Christ in Refugees and Forcibly Displaced Persons” calls for special attention to today’s problem of migrations, which presents a very different picture from that of the 90s, as well as an intervention to defuse what could well be “a time bomb.” Moreover, any intervention must keep in mind that there are some 100 million displaced people for social, economic, political, religious and climatic reasons, who have a right to a dignified life. And the Church, out of fidelity to her pastoral work, must assume their defense and see Christ in the immigrant and the refugee.
The document was presented yesterday at the Holy See Press Office by several speakers, including Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People; Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”; Johan Ketelers, secretary general of the Catholic International Commission for Migrations (CICM); and Katerine Camilleri, vice-director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Malta and recipient of the 2007 Nansen Prize of the of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (ACNUR).
Cardinal Veglio said the document “is a pastoral guide” and part of an essential premise: every policiy, initiative, or intervention in this realm must be inspired in the principles of the centrality of the dignity of the human person.” It is an initiative that sees two Vatican dicasteries in a strategic alliance on a specific topic.
He added that the document “responds to the changes in the nature of forced migration witnessed in the last years,” which calls for an updating of the 1992 document “Refugees: A Challenge in Solidarity.” Cardinal Veglio went on to say that “the reasons that oblige men and women to leave their homes” have multiplied which adds to the difficulty created by “the radicalization of the norms of many governments on this matter” as well as a certain “hardening of public opinion.”
The numbers given are impressive: “16 million, among whom are the Palestinians, related to the protection of the United Nations Aid and Work Agency; 28.8 million displaced by internal conflicts; 15 million fugitives from environmental dangers; 15 million more due to development projects, in addition to the stateless, and 12 million ‘invisibles’– without documentation in countries where they immigrated.”
Cardinal Veglio said that an attempt is being made to guarantee “at least the rights enumerated in the 1951 Convention on Refugees” and above all “to give new life to the spirit of 1951.”
The document condemns the trafficking of human beings “which must be overcome by societies that wish to be called civilized,” and the sad phenomenons that have appeared, such as persons deprived of deciding their destiny; the sex industry; forced labor in various sectors; the traffic of organs for transplants; peaople reduced to slavery in miserable work, and the recruiting of children for armed conflicts.
The cardinal stressed that “the pastoral service of the Church is the tangible expression of her faith” and, because of this, the Church, beginning with the parishes and through all her components, including at the global level, must not be afraid to assume the defense of immigrants, refugees, the displaced and victims of the traffic of human beings in all areas of the world.”
“All in the Christian community are called to hear Christ’s appeal to take in the stranger, who today appears in the face of the fugitive, the refugee, the victims of the contemptible traffic of human beings, as Pope Francis said.”
He appealed to governments to respect the rights of persons living in situations of forced migration, from permission to reside to citizenship for the stateless.
The document related human dignity to several points: the return home; the international community’s commitment to post-conflict reconstruction; protection of peoples from violations of their human rights; protection of victims of the traffic of human beings; the right of religious protection; the right of expression; cooperation in the pastoral for wellbeing and development, response to those who suffer and motivating occasions of sensitization.
The cardinal concluded by stressing the Church’s conviction that there must be “collective responsibility and that of each individual believer, pastoral attention to all those people who in some way are involved in forced migrations.” He recalled that those who live “in conditions of human mobility are not only the recipients but can also be witnesses of the Gospel.”
For his part, Cardinal Robert Sarah began with the phrase from the Gospel of St. Matthew: “I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty …” and he pointed out: “This is the face of our brothers and sisters, refugees, displaced and stricken by humanitarian emergencies.” Among other subjects, he referred to the tragic situation in Syria, with 4 million displaced internally in addition to those who crossed the borders to neighboring countries and the 80,000 dead in the past two years.
The face that the evangelist’s speaks of, Cardinal Sarah continued, is that of the populations of the Sahel, who wait for a rain that does not come; of the victims of the tornado in Oklahoma City, of the natural catastrophes. But also the unemployed in so many European countries who are trapped in a “structural poverty” and who pay personally the price of policies that made many States live a long time beyond their means.
These people “ask us for a commitment of love that will restore to them, first of all, their dignity of persons made in the image and likeness of God,” said Cardinal Sarah.
Hence the need for pastoral guidelines, as prepared by both Pontifical Councils, to “reinforce in workers and volunteers of Catholic charitable organizations, a very precise style of presence, attention and action.”
Johan Ketelers, secretary general of the Catholic International Commission for Migrations said that the complexity of migrations in a globalized world is much higher than that which existed in the 90s – immigrations that extend from armed conflicts to migrations for economic reasons, passing through a series of different typologies.
Categories which in the meantime “have suffered an enlargement and which do not find an adequate international answer and increasingly less humanitarian spaces.” Witnessed, moreover, is a “loss of solidarity as point of reference for the social cohesion and the increase of policies that see in the foreigner an obstacle to development.”
All these things “are a time bomb that is ticking in our society and there are very few tools or very little good will to stop the ‘tick tock,’” said Ketelers.
Ketelers invited to move from focusing on the causes to the vulnerability and costs of immigration, as the human person is the first thing, in particular of societies that consider themselves developed.
Katerine Camilleri, vice-director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, concluded by recalling her experience, which indicates that “refugees not only need protection from persecution but they also need to be with their families, to be supported by the community and to be received in fitting conditions.”