“One of the most challenging, urgent commitments today is to work for a change of attitude that may replace the prevailing culture of ‘waste’ and rejection” of migrants and refugees”, declared Cardinal Pietro Parolin in his opening remarks at the Plenary Meeting of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), ongoing in Rome – from March 6 to 8. ICMC is headquartered in Geneva. It coordinates a network of structures mandated by the Catholic Bishops Conferences in 50 world countries working in the area of refugees and migration issues. Its over 100 delegates will be received in audience by Pope Francis on March 8 in the Clementine Hall. Pope Francis, quoted by Cardinal Parolin, reminds us that “a change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world.” It requires spreading “information and awareness. In this effort – he said – your Commission can help the Catholic Church dissipate widespread prejudice and ungrounded fears related to the arrival of migrants, and – without overlooking the multifaceted commitments linked to their reception– we must spread a balanced, positive perception of migration.” We interviewed him on the sidelines of the meeting.
Italian voters chose populisms and political parties that rode the wave of anti-immigrant sentiments. Is the Holy See worried?
The Holy See is aware that she must operate in situations as they come into being. We can’t have ideal societies, we can’t have the conditions we hope for. Thus I believe that,
also in the present situation, the Holy See will carry forth her commitment, for it is a commitment of education, and it takes time.
It’s important to educate the overall population to pass from a negative outlook to a more welcoming attitude towards immigrants. It’s an ongoing effort, regardless of whether the conditions are favourable.
The Holy See will always be determined to propose her message rooted in human dignity and solidarity.
What is your advice to Catholic organizations involved in ensuring reception and integration of migrants, even in these difficult times?
My advice is
to work for a positive understanding of migration.
In fact, migration has many positive aspects which passed unnoticed owing to the complexity of the present situation. My advice to them is to continue working on the ground, for this is their characterising feature. But at the same time, they should not be afraid to help the population adopt this new approach.
You mentioned the need for safe, legal channels to prevent migrants from falling prey to traffickers: the Italian Church is placing great efforts in the humanitarian corridors program. Could this experience be replicated in other countries?
I believe it could.
It’s one of the good practices that could be replicated and proposed in other situations.
These are positive initiatives with very encouraging results. Drop by drop, it’s important not be discouraged even if the phenomenon is of huge proportions. Feasible, solidarity-based solutions are slowly emerging. We should pursue and reaffirm these experiences in order to live out the reality of immigration in a positive way.
The Holy See supports the UN Global Compacts on Migration targeted for approval by the end of 2018. What are the perspectives?
Indeed, the Holy See is actively supporting the Global Compacts on Migration and has already offered her contribution through the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development. It is one the few that did, which means we consider this passage extremely important. We will continue giving our support in this stage of the negotiation set to ensure the adoption of the Global compacts.
Is it possible to reconcile two requirements presented as incompatible, such as citizens’ security and the needs of people fleeing situations of danger?
We ought to admit that it’s not easy. But it’s a challenge that the political realm is called to face. It is necessary to reconcile these two requirements that are equally urgent. It’s obvious that
Citizens must feel protected and safe but at the same time we can’t close our doors to people fleeing situations of violence and danger.
It is necessary that all involved parties work together. This is another fundamental aspect.
It’s a matter of method: acknowledging the difficulties, being determined to find solutions and doing so together.
Migrants are not numbers but faces, as Pope Francis tirelessly reminds us.
The issue of migrations can be resolved with this criteria, namely, to extend our gaze beyond the numbers and focus on the persons, feeling their pain, as the Pope has said on many occasions. It is paramount to feel on our own skin the pain of those forced to leave their Countries, exposed to dangers and threats in order to survive.
Is the culture of encounter the answer to the culture of indifference?
To counter the culture of indifference and the throwaway culture the Pope proposes to adopt the culture of encounter, which means taking other people’s burdens and problems on our own shoulders. It’s an encounter that becomes an act of sharing. It is not a formal issue. If we attune with other people’s suffering we will be driven to action. Thanks God many people, organizations, and political representatives are determined to solve these problems and to reconcile security-related issues with the protection of migrants.”