By Linda Bordoni
“Racism and xenophobia are in contradiction to the message of Jesus” said the Archbishop of Hamburg at the opening of a summit in Germany on the challenges of welcoming and assisting refugees and migrants.
The 4th Catholic Refugee Summit that took place in Essen this week saw the participation of some 150 representatives of national and diocesan Caritas offices, host communities and volunteers.
Challenge of xenophobia
Lectures, workshops and a panel discussion focused on how the Church deals with the challenge of xenophobia as it assists those who have been forced to flee their homes.
Hamburg Archbishop, Stefan Hesse, who is also special representative for refugee issues and chairman of the Migration Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference, noted that “especially in difficult times, when charity and solidarity with people seeking protection seem to have faded, the fact that many church representatives and refugee aid workers have gathered here is a source of inspiration and strength.”
He recalled that the first summit in 2015 was an opportunity to exchange views after the great migration of that summer saying: “we experienced a wave of solidarity, support and compassion in Germany”.
This, the Archbishop continued, developed into a forum for discussion, especially about the welcome of many people who had fled their home countries to escape war and civil conflicts.
Archbishop Hesse revealed that in 2018, the Catholic Church in Germany spent around 125.5 million Euros to provide long and short-term assistance to refugees.
The money, he explained, was invested both in domestic and foreign projects. He said that the budget is diminishing because numerous programmes for first assistance have expired and refugee work has increasingly become “regular work”.
Hesse reminded those present that big challenges remain to be faced as integration is a long-term task: “Currently our society seems to be divided” with xenophobic ideas threatening to spread to the middle classes, he said.
Sometimes, he noted, even in Catholic communities, refugees and migrants fear alienation. Therefore, he stressed, the need to tackle xenophobic tendencies and right-wing populism is one of the current challenges facing the Church’s mission to provide aid to refugees.