(from Valencia) A traditionally open and welcoming Catholic community, ready to offer “unlimited” reception to the migrants on board of the Aquarius rescue-ship. Initially they were thought to be 200, but today the concept of unlimited solidarity was reiterated by Msgr. Arturo Ros, auxiliary bishop, coordinator of social and charitable activity at the archdiocese of Valencia. He received us – with the bronze statue of John Paul II placed at the entrance – in his study located inside the archbishopric, an elegant, ancient building a few steps away from the famous cathedral of Valencia (la Seu) where is kept the Holy Grail, the Chalice with Christ’s blood donated by King Alfonso the Magnanimous in 1436. Over the past days Valencia has been defined an “open city” following the Spanish government’s decision to open the city’s seaports to the rescue ship operated by the NGO Sos Mediterranée with 630 migrants on board, after Italy’s Interior Ministry blocked the ship from docking. The migrants are now stationed at Red Cross centres for medical screenings and identification procedures. The Spanish government will grant a temporary 45-day humanitarian permit, but more than half of the migrants on board, French-speaking Africans, said they intend to go to France. Also the diocese is doing its share by participating in the meetings of the Joint Committee on migrants’ reception since its formation. The details on the migrants’ access to facilities made available by the Church are yet to be defined. Last week the archbishop of Valencia cardinal Antonio Cañizares, was received in the Vatican by Pope Francis who commended this propitious decision and the solidarity shown by citizens. The diocese was inundated with phone calls and proposals of assistance from groups, parishes and families. The initiative will avail itself of the support of an existing network of structures and services and of 6000 volunteers. Last year 25.000 migrants have benefited from these services.
Why have you decided to offer reception to the Aquarius migrants?
It’s not a decision, it’s a mission. We have been working to defend human dignity regardless of nationality and particular situations. We are facing an extremely sad, tragic situation. Our duty is to make ourselves available to meet the needs of these people. Last year Caritas Valencia assisted 25 thousand migrants, although many of them were in transit or stayed for a short period. A high number of them were guided into an integration path. We help them integrate into our society through vocational training, language courses, education programs. A large majority arrive from Africa through the Moroccan route. They knock on our doors after having arrived through the southern border.
How are you organizing their reception?
We are prepared to host them in our homes and in our centres. We are waiting to be told how to proceed, but we have already identified housing facilities for adults and children.
We also provide dedicated services for child reception and support. The local saying goes, “we have set the table.” With no limits. We have religious homes with high accomodation capacity that can be used immediately. We can count on at least
6.000 volunteers: translators, professors at the Catholic University, cultural mediators, psychologists, physicians, chefs.
They offered their help even at a very short notice, with no limits. We also actively cooperate with other non-catholic organizations, such as the Red Cross.
Has the Church appreciated the gesture of the Spanish government to allow the ship to dock in Valencia?
Absolutely, we commended the President of the national government and the leaders of the autonomous government. They thanked us for our permanent availability to cooperate.
What do you think about Italy’s decision to refuse port access to Acquarius rescue ship and – it is feared – to NGOs?
It’s hard to express an opinion since European policy issues are at stake that I am not fully informed of. I heard some of the statements released by Italian Interior Minister, and the criticism of other Countries. I believe that the underlying reason is the failed recognition of European identity rooted in Christian humanism. If that hadn’t been the case, the core values of a continent that is welcoming and protective towards the weakest part of humanity would have beeen recovered. Political leaders in all Countries should be more aware of this because the situation is growing worse.
In the past few days more than 500 people have arrived with makeshift boats at the Canary islands and at the Southern borders.
That’s why the autonomous community of Valencia asked for the support of the national government. Moreover, the incident of the Aquarius rescue ship is very significant owing to the related circumstances, but migrants continue arriving every day, amidst sorrow, suffering and death, the death toll in the Mediterranean sea is far too high. In our modern world we should all feel involved in this phenomenon, a more equal distribution of wealth should ensure that everyone has access to food, drinking water and clothing.
Does the Aquarius incident have also a symbolical meaning?
It testifies to the gravity of world developments that require our attention, also with a wake up call that prompts protests and makes us ask ourselves why this is happening. At the same time we not should limit ourselves to reflections and requests for political measures.
We need to take action. The mission is our language
And poor people, with no distinctions, are the main recipients of our mission. Pope Francis rightly underlines this aspect on many occasions.
Should European civil society mobilize pressure on national governments?
Yes, there is need for it. People sympathize immediately with tragic situations: for example
The solidarity shown in Valencia exceeded our expectations.
We were contacted by parish groups, families who offered their homes. But these are temporary solutions. Our commitment as a Church is to offer permanent, comprehensive solutions that will help these people become independent. Instead we see the absence of in-depth reflection and proposals aimed at solving their problems.
Cardinal Cañizares has spoken about this situation with the Pope. Is there constant communication with the Vatican?
We know that
the Pope is fully informed about the developments of the past few days, he knows about the response of Valencia’s diocese
and he expressed his encouragement and praise. We thanked him because we want to remain true to who we are and to his Magisterium.
Have there been episodes of racism of Valencia? Can it be considered a model of migrant social integration?
It can, Valencia is an open city, and so is our diocese. There is a very significant aspect of our history: our Eucharistic culture is deeply-rooted and centuries-old. The Eucharist leads the faithful to carry out acts of charity. It’s the distinctive trait of whoever lives out Christian spirituality in full. Our Caritas centres, our volunteer work, our yearning to be welcoming, are its fruits. We are a welcoming people open to cooperation.
There is no racism and if there is, it is linked to political issues we are not involved in.
We can make no distinctions, just as Jesus made no distinctions when he cured and healed the people. We can’t sit and watch what is happening: the mission of the Church is to defend everyone’s dignity.
If we want our life to be shaped according to the style of the Gospel Valencia can be considered a role model. If not, it means that we are not living it out in full.