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Migrants collect hot water outside a logistics center on the Belarusian-Polish border Migrants collect hot water outside a logistics center on the Belarusian-Polish border 

European Churches respond to Pope's appeal for migrants and refugees

Pope Francis’ appeal to European leaders to take action to safeguard the dignity and human rights of migrants and refugees is unanimously upheld and welcomed by Churches, religious congregations and Catholic organizations.

By Gabriella Ceraso & Linda Bordoni

Speaking during this last General Audience before Christmas, Pope Francis appealed to European leaders to take joint action and find solutions to protect and promote migrants and refugees arriving on the continent.

He also noted that thanks to the openness of Italian authorities, a group of migrants he met during his recent apostolic visit to Cyprus and Greece was able to obtain a safe passage to Italy and with the collaboration of the Sant ’Egidio Community is being offered shelter and means for integration.

“This is a small sign that I hope may serve as a stimulus for other European countries, so that they may allow local ecclesial realities to take charge of other brothers and sisters who urgently need to be relocated,” he said.

 

COMECE: “Recognize the Child Jesus in every refugee”

Joining the Pope’s appeal, the President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, issued a statement asking EU authorities “to allow refugees who are stranded in the territories of first reception, as in the case of Cyprus and Greece, to be relocated to other EU nations, ensuring them the protection and promotion they need.”

Cardinal Hollerich extends the request to the entire Church in Europe, which is made up of parishes, communities and faithful, so that they may become "witnesses of Christ" especially during this Christmas season, welcoming with a spirit of service, those who arrive in search of protection.

Exhorting Church leaders to work together on concrete projects in collaboration with public authorities, the COMECE President implored the Child Jesus whose birth we will soon celebrate, “enlighten us so that we can recognize Him in every refugee who knocks on our door" with the necessary strength to overcome indifference.

Slovenian Church: a challenge and an opportunity

Reacting to the Pope’s invitation to open their communities to migrants and refugees in difficulty, the Slovenian bishops pen a message highlighting the challenge that needs to be taken up by EU member states.

“Countries and citizens are called to solidarity with those who knock on our doors seeking a better future,” they say, noting that "Hospitality and welcoming the foreigner have long been a sign of love and respect for the dignity of every human being.”

It is therefore important, the Slovenian bishops say, “that our country and the European Union give all refugees and migrants the opportunity to legally obtain asylum for themselves and their families, helping them to integrate."

They also highlight the opportunity the migration phenomenon offers calling us to reflect on its roots and causes: wars, the arms trade, unjust economic policies, poverty and corruption: “May the Holy Family remind us, at Christmas, of respect for dignity, of the value of peace and solidarity.”

French Church: the need for close collaboration

The Catholic French Bishops' Conference released a note reiterating the need for “close collaboration” between Christians and political authorities in welcoming migrants, "without which a welcome is not possible". The bishops recalled a list of projects that, in recent years, have multiplied in French Dioceses in favour of migrants and refugees, and renewed their commitment to “contribute” and to add their voices to the ongoing dialogue with the French government.

Austrian bishops: appeal to government 

Expressing their full support for Pope Francis' appeal, the Austrian Catholic bishops are urging the Federal government to join them in addressing the "tragic fate" of refugees within the European Union.

They ask political leaders to give a concrete “sign of solidarity and humanity” and accept a hundred families “arriving from European reception camps whose asylum status has been recognized.”

Pointing to the European and Christian values at the heart of the Pope’s appeal, the Austrian prelates highlight the humanitarian commitment that is already underway in the country as well as the willingness of Austrian citizens to “care and integrate.”

However, they also turn to Europe asking for "fair and solidarity-based solutions" that are still lacking, and note that the government is clearly asked to protect borders and people, dignity and rights without exception.

German Church: solutions and shared responsibility

Through a statement signed by Archbishop Stefan Hesse of Hamburg, the Church in Germany also issued a favourable response to the Pope's appeal for a fair distribution of commitments and responsibility towards those seeking refuge in Europe. The Pope's incessant activity is a constant invitation to charity – it says - an example to be followed.

The archbishop notes that not only has the situation not improved for people on the move in the Mediterranean area, “pockets of misery” have been added with critical situations in different areas, especially on the eastern borders of the EU and in the Balkans.

In this context, the Church in Germany calls for expanded reception programs and greater efforts to overcome the humanitarian crisis at Europe’s external borders, and it reiterates its availability, to collaborate with the country’s new political leadership.

“We need long-term solutions and shared responsibility. (…) Christmas reminds us every year that God becomes man in a defenceless child in need of protection. Also today, we meet Christ in people whose dignity is in grave danger. Thus, the Pope's appeal is not about abstract numbers, but about human beings who need our support,” Archbishop Hesse writes.

The Church in Spain: yes to humanitarian corridors

A statement issued by the Commission for Social Pastoral Care and Human Promotion of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference pledges to facilitate the reception of migrants in Spanish Dioceses.

It also commits to work in collaboration with the State – at all levels – to promote the creation of humanitarian corridors and stable and inclusive solutions.

"God knocks on our doors," Christian communities and the whole of society must be close to those most in need, the Spanish prelates say stressing the need for a model of responsible reception and just and lasting solutions.

JRS: thanks to the Pope, humanity becomes hospitality

In line with and in support of the Pope and the Churches of Europe, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) works to welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants.

Thus, in a statement responding to the Pope's appeal, JRS Greece recalls the Holy Father’s recent apostolic journey and the experience of the harsh reality for migrants in the Mediterranean.

It notes a serious delay in negotiations regarding European migration policies and the many deaths of migrants on the borders of the EU that are still a "daily reality". The Jesuits recall the various interventions of the Pope regarding the problem of nationalism and the need for shared responsibility from which no one is exempt.

"We think that deep within us resides the ability to open our doors to our neighbours: as human beings, we are driven to welcome the stranger and build new relationships. Our communities of hospitality are spread throughout Europe as authentic spaces of encounter and constitute an invitation to be witnesses of hope. We all win when humanity becomes hospitality, because then hospitality becomes humanity."

22 December 2021, 17:57