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Migration: words and actions. The EU and the Churches together, against the tide

The annual meeting of religious communities with representatives of European institutions focused on the “structural” phenomenon involving the arrival of refugees from poor Countries or from Countries at war. For Msgr. Kockerols (COMECE) this challenge requires far-sightedness, concrete measures and the ability to see the “face of Christ” in the migrant person; even if the public at large appears to have different views...

Concerns (many), shared beliefs, consequential actions, Monsignor Jean Kockerols, auxiliary bishop of Malines-Bruxelles, Vice-President of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community – COMECE, drew a cogent outline of yesterday’s meeting in Brussels of high-level religious leaders with the EU. This year’s theme was: “Migration, Integration, European values: from words to action”

Political leaders, bishops, Protestant pastors, Imams, Rabbis, gathered at the Berlaymont building for the traditional annual meeting enshrined in Art.17 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Given the present historical circumstances the migrant crisis which, pointed out the Belgian bishop, cannot be viewed as a “short-term problem”, must be faced with the awareness that it is a structural phenomenon of our times that needs to be addressed from the perspective of those who are “in a state of suffering”,

“people in whom the Christian faith sees the face of Christ.”

The Church, underlined COMECE Vice-President, “has the duty to recall that every refugee has the right to receive a fair and human treatment”, as Pope Francis has said on many occasions – even though public opinion appears to be leaning towards different options… Indeed, the “migration-issue” is a hanging question. Some governments are building walls; fears and doubts are worming their way through the population, while this challenge “has undermined the common understanding within the EU”, and, “it cannot be denied, even within the Churches in Europe.” Kockerols faced the facts pointing out that we must welcome those in danger, whilst implementing programs for the integration of refugees and asylum-seekers. At the same time it is necessary to ensure development and peace-building actions in poor Countries, tackling the “roots” of the migratory phenomenon.

The Berlaymont meeting was marked by shared views and perspectives.

The dignitaries representing Christian confessions, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism… all spoke the same language, despite the different idioms. Their words were characterised by openness, appeals to solidarity, rejecting populisms and racism. Counter-current expressions such as “reception”, “solidarity”, “welcoming diversity”, “listening”, “tolerance”, “coexistence”… were reiterated throughout. The speeches of the religious leaders clearly highlighted

their authoritativeness grounded in the deep knowledge of the situation in their home Countries, in the ability to scrutinize the continental and international horizon, based on the awareness of speaking on behalf of communities of believers tirelessly committed in providing support to the migrants.

Actions – Msgr. Kockerols inferred – come before words. The generous efforts offered by Caritas, by parishes, associations, volunteers – whether Christians or faithful of other religions – are the primary answer to migration waves, and, on a different note, to the selfish closures of those who erect walls against children, women, and men fleeing from bombs and underdevelopment. 
Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos, pointed out: “With the rise of nationalism, xenophobia and extremism, we must ensure that our society remains welcoming – especially to those fleeing from war and in need of international protection – while preserving its core values and principles.” The religious leaders standing beside him nodded emphatically.

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