Migrants gather on the Belarusian-Polish border Migrants gather on the Belarusian-Polish border 

Cardinal Hollerich on migration crisis: EU borders risk becoming cemeteries

The President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union is urging the EU and its member states to actively show solidarity with migrants and asylum seekers trapped on the bloc’s borders in increasingly desperate conditions.

By Linda Bordoni

As thousands of vulnerable migrants remain trapped on Belarus borders in winter conditions amid a political standoff between Minsk and the European Union, the Catholic Church is appealing to all people of goodwill to show solidarity with the migrants and calls on political leaders to pursue dialogue and to respect human dignity and international law.

In the latest development of the migrant emergency, countries bordering Belarus warned the crisis on the EU’s eastern borders could escalate into a military confrontation.

The EU says Belarus’ embattled government is encouraging thousands of migrants fleeing conflict and poverty in Afghanistan, Syria and Africa, to try to cross its borders in retaliation for sanctions imposed by the bloc following allegations of human rights abuses.

Poland and Lithuania have declared states of emergency on their borders and have authorized pushbacks against the migrants, trying to cross their borders into Europe.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the EU, appealed for openness to our brothers and sisters in need and said that to use human beings as weapons or instruments, is like “the original sin”.

Listen to Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich

Chilling footage of families with young children camped in the snow and sleeping rough in the woods on the borders of Europe are yet another call on men and women of goodwill to show generosity and openness and nurture a culture of encounter.

Cardinal Hollerich says it is not enough to have good and fair legislation to face the migration challenge properly.  Pope Francis, he adds, points to the way “when he speaks about welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating people.”


It is all very well and very important, he notes, to have good channels and processes aimed at safeguarding rights and spelling out duties, but “it also important to have a personal openness to our brothers and sisters in need.”

“We need more generosity, willingness to know better other human beings. We need open hearts and minds; we need a new cultural context which is less divisive and doesn’t polarize perspectives. We need a culture of encounter. If we have that and if the citizens of the European Union have such a culture, politics will follow.”

Using migrants as political instruments is a sin

Asked about the role of the Catholic Church in this precarious balance between some EU member states, Cardinal Hollerich said the Catholic Church must promote mutual understanding and the common good.

He also decried the use of human beings in a political game saying that to use migrants as instruments “is like the original sin.”

“To use human beings as instruments is something terrible. We need to unite on common humanitarian principles, and we need to come back to basic ethical principles that should be shared by political and social leaders in the European Union,” he said.

Pointing out that migrants are not just statistics, but persons entitled to full respect for their fundamental rights and their human dignity, he quoted the Pope’s reiterated warning that the Mediterranean Sea is becoming a huge cemetery, and said Europe’s borders are running the same risk.

Migrants on the Belarusian Polish border
Migrants on the Belarusian Polish border

EU borders risk becoming a cemetery

“Now we risk to have the EU borders becoming a huge cemetery,” Hollerich noted, adding that as a European, it would feel terrible living in a “European Union which is surrounded by cemeteries of people who wanted to share our way of life.”

The Church, he said, “is an expert in humanity” and we should take orientation from its Social Doctrine, “also in this sensitive area.”

“We cannot forget our principles when we see people in need,” the Cardinal continued explaining that the Catholic Church has play the role of bridge-building, of promoting mutual understanding, taking into account the concerns of everyone, “always promoting the common good, locally and universally.”

Peace in Europe

Finally, Cardinal Hollerich said, “this humanitarian crisis should be solved in a humanitarian way” always paying attention never to put peace in Europe into danger.

The border between Belarus and Poland's Grodno region
The border between Belarus and Poland's Grodno region
11 November 2021, 17:15