Cédric Mouzou, SJ - Vatican City
In his intervention at the Plenary Assembly of the Regional Episcopal Conference of West Africa, CERAO-RECOWA, being held in Ouagadougou -Burkina Faso, Father Ikena began by recalling the biblical context of migration with humankind’s first parents, Adam and Eve. “Human mobility seems to be a consequence of the fall of our first parents who became migrants after being expelled from their home for disobedience,” said the Nigerian Jesuit.
Referring to a recent message of Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the Archbishop of Abuja in Nigeria, Fr. Ikena said that the best way to curb migration was to improve things in the countries of origin.
Improve living conditions for young people
“Migrants, most of whom are young, are not an abstract set of ideas, but real people with real lives, all created by God,” said the priest. He regretted the living conditions of young migrant victims of abuse who are forced to leave because of the precariousness of life in their respective countries.
Fr. Ikena endorsed an interview on 5 May 2019 in which the Archbishop of Abuja blamed the Nigerian government for the massive departure of the youth. The Archbishop noted that the reasons that make the land unlivable for young people were “the disobedience of the rulers to the commandments of God, their personal sins and the sins of the institutions they have created to serve their personal interests,” Cardinal Onaiyekan was quoted as saying.
The Church will be judged on the character of the care she gives to migrants
The Church has a role to play. Migration whether voluntary or irregular has become a human phenomena. Father Ikena recalled that God did not abandon humankind to its destiny after the fall of Adam and Eve. On the contrary, God has continued to protect humanity. With this argument, Fr. Ikena invited the Church in West Africa, “to manifest the character of God, by not abandoning migrants in their vulnerabilities.”
According to the Jesuit priest, the responsibility of the Church is twofold: It must accompany migrants at every stage of their migration. On the other hand, the Church must also continuously challenge and urge the leaders of countries whose decisions and actions make their countries uninhabitable for their young people. Father Ikena drew the Bishops’ attention to the fact that to perform these roles exceptionally, the Church herself must be irreproachable. Migrants, he said, are part of the Lord’s flock. And “the Church will be judged on the character and extent of care she provides to its most vulnerable of herds, such as migrants.” The question that resurfaces is this: “How can the Church, as a family of God in Africa, accompany millions of vulnerable young people on the move?” Father Ikena invited the Bishops to find the answer in the four words of Pope Francis: Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate.
The Church in Africa must “Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate.”
In a difficult socio-political context characterised by abuse of power and bad governance, Fr. Ikena invited the West African Bishops to inculcate a welcoming spirit in their communities for migrants and displaced persons. Since we cannot welcome a person we have never known, the Church in West Africa must learn to identify and accompany young people “who are experiencing rapid and difficult transformations.” The youth ministry, Fr. Ikena said, has “the unique opportunity to listen with an open mind to the rhythms of the hearts of our young people who naively contemplate migration.”