“In this Conference we listened to the contributions of various leaders and experts from Churches around the globe. They highlighted the ties linking xenophobia, racism and populism. These are growing phenomena taking on various shapes and forms in all Countries.” That’s why the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the World Council of Churches (WCC) have joined forces and expertise by promoting a “World Conference on xenophobia, racism, and populist nationalism in the context of global migration” that will end September 20 with an audience with Pope Francis. Approximately 200 governmental, intergovernmental, civil society, academic, religious, and ecumenical leaders and actors from world Countries attended the meeting. “The Churches – Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC Secretary General, told SIR – are working for the identification of solutions, especially by calling upon the population to view migrants and refugees not as a problem but as human beings. Speakers underlined the ties between the religious dimension and the ways in which the migration issue is addressed, which constitutes a challenge for the Churches.”
Could you explain?
Over the past we days we acknowledged that in some cases religions are distortedly used as identities we should guard against or as factors of exclusion. It’s a problem. For this reason, as Churches, we should try to work towards a common understanding of what it means to believe in God.
We are all strangers, and as such, we all need to be welcomed and accepted.
In televised images and in real life we see men, women, and children fleeing from poverty, war, persecution, yet people are afraid of migrants. Why?
Fear is a human reaction to the unknown, to something that somehow jeopardizes our economic and financial security. But in most cases fear is merely the result of perceptions, of preconceived ideas, of prejudices. In the past few days we recognized the existence of feelings of fear, however those feelings should not be exploited for political reasons, to support the theories of populist nationalists or to substantiate political agendas. Yet unfortunately many are feeding into broad-based fears, exaggerating the problems and depicting reality as being far more dangerous and complex than it truly is. The challenges linked to migration can be addressed, but it won’t be done by fuelling people’s fears. Finally, we should ask ourselves:
Who is the one to be afraid? Are we afraid of migrants or are migrants in a state of fear for all that they have experienced?
They were forced to leave their homes and their homeland as a result of war, conflicts, poverty, persecutions. They have all reasons to be afraid. Thus we should shift our viewpoint and try to see things from their perspective.
What is the message to Christian communities?
Churches are called to send a message of love that translates words into action. Only in this way can we bear witness to the love of God for humankind. The Churches’ activity extends beyond national borders, they see peoples’ needs and they are engaged in ensuring co-existence wherever possible.
Thus I expect this Conference to send a message of encouragement to step up this commitment and do so together. We are facing the same challenges and we believe in the same God.
What is your message to political leaders?
Two messages: the first is addressed to political leaders of all world Countries, from the entire political spectrum. They are called to respond to their human responsibility and to face the real problems, the problems of real people. It’s an invitation not to tackle these issues in terms of numbers, budget, slogans or items on a political agenda. We are faced with a human crisis and we must face it together as human beings. You should not forget your humanity as political leaders. The second message is the following: look at the Churches, listen to what they have to say, to what they do, see them as partners that can help you.
See us and listen to us also when we voice criticisms.
Our criticism is aimed at building a better world and a pacified society.
What will you say to the Pope during the audience?
I will tell him that in the past days we worked, prayed and walked together as we had promised in Geneva when Pope Francis visited the WCC. This is our calling: to face the challenges and show what it means to believe in and live out the Gospel in our present times. I will also tell him that we are blessed with his inspiration and encouragement to work together for peace, justice and the respect of human rights. Finally, I will tell him that we pray for him, for all the commitments he is facing.