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[29 September 2019]

“It is not just about migrants”

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Faith assures us that in a mysterious way the Kingdom of God is already present here on earth (cf. Gaudium et spes, 39). Yet in our own time, we are saddened to see the obstacles and opposition it encounters. Violent conflicts and all-out wars continue to tear humanity apart; injustices and discrimination follow one upon the other; economic and social imbalances on a local or global scale prove difficult to overcome. And above all it is the poorest of the poor and the most disadvantaged who pay the price.

The most economically advanced societies are witnessing a growing trend towards extreme individualism which, combined with a utilitarian mentality and reinforced by the media, is producing a “globalization of indifference”. In this scenario, migrants, refugees, displaced persons and victims of trafficking have become emblems of exclusion. In addition to the hardships that their condition entails, they are often looked down upon and considered the source of all society’s ills. That attitude is an alarm bell warning of the moral decline we will face if we continue to give ground to the throw-away culture. In fact, if it continues, anyone who does not fall within the accepted norms of physical, mental and social well-being is at risk of marginalization and exclusion.

For this reason, the presence of migrants and refugees – and of vulnerable people in general – is an invitation to recover some of those essential dimensions of our Christian existence and our humanity that risk being overlooked in a prosperous society. That is why it is not just about migrants. When we show concern for them, we also show concern for ourselves, for everyone; in taking care of them, we all grow; in listening to them, we also give voice to a part of ourselves that we may keep hidden because it is not well regarded nowadays.

“Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” (Mt 14:27). It is not just about migrants: it is also about our fears. The signs of meanness we see around us heighten “our fear of ‘the other’, the unknown, the marginalized, the foreigner... We see this today in particular, faced with the arrival of migrants and refugees knocking on our door in search of protection, security and a better future. To some extent, the fear is legitimate, also because the preparation for this encounter is lacking” (Homily in Sacrofano, 15 February 2019). But the problem is not that we have doubts and fears. The problem is when they condition our way of thinking and acting to the point of making us intolerant, closed and perhaps even – without realizing it – racist. In this way, fear deprives us of the desire and the ability to encounter the other, the person different from myself; it deprives me of an opportunity to encounter the Lord (cf. Homily at Mass for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 14 January 2018).

“For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?” (Mt 5:46). It is not just about migrants: it is about charity. Through works of charity, we demonstrate our faith (cf. Jas 2:18). And the highest form of charity is that shown to those unable to reciprocate and perhaps even to thank us in return. “It is also about the face we want to give to our society and about the value of each human life... The progress of our peoples... depends above all on our openness to being touched and moved by those who knock at our door. Their faces shatter and debunk all those false idols that can take over and enslave our lives; idols that promise an illusory and momentary happiness blind to the lives and sufferings of others” (Address at the Diocesan Caritas of Rabat, 30 March 2019).

“But a Samaritan traveller who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight” (Lk 10:33). It is not just about migrants: it is about our humanity. Compassion motivated that Samaritan – for the Jews, a foreigner – not to pass by. Compassion is a feeling that cannot be explained on a purely rational level. Compassion strikes the most sensitive chords of our humanity, releasing a vibrant urge to “be a neighbour” to all those whom we see in difficulty. As Jesus himself teaches us (cf. Mt 9:35-36; 14:13-14; 15:32-37), being compassionate means recognizing the suffering of the other and taking immediate action to soothe, heal and save. To be compassionate means to make room for that tenderness which today’s society so often asks us to repress. “Opening ourselves to others does not lead to impoverishment, but rather enrichment, because it enables us to be more human: to recognize ourselves as participants in a greater collectivity and to understand our life as a gift for others; to see as the goal, not our own interests, but rather the good of humanity” (Address at the Heydar Aliyev Mosque in Baku, 2 October 2016).

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father” (Mt 18:10). It is not just about migrants: it is a question of seeing that no one is excluded. Today’s world is increasingly becoming more elitist and cruel towards the excluded. Developing countries continue to be drained of their best natural and human resources for the benefit of a few privileged markets. Wars only affect some regions of the world, yet weapons of war are produced and sold in other regions which are then unwilling to take in the refugees produced by these conflicts. Those who pay the price are always the little ones, the poor, the most vulnerable, who are prevented from sitting at the table and are left with the “crumbs” of the banquet (cf. Lk 16:19-21). “The Church which ‘goes forth’... can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast” (Evangelii Gaudium, 24). A development that excludes makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. A real development, on the other hand, seeks to include all the world’s men and women, to promote their integral growth, and to show concern for coming generations.

“Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all” (Mk 10:43-44). It is not just about migrants: it is about putting the last in first place. Jesus Christ asks us not to yield to the logic of the world, which justifies injustice to others for my own gain or that of my group. “Me first, and then the others!” Instead, the true motto of the Christian is, “The last shall be first!” “An individualistic spirit is fertile soil for the growth of that kind of indifference towards our neighbours which leads to viewing them in purely economic terms, to a lack of concern for their humanity, and ultimately to feelings of fear and cynicism. Are these not the attitudes we often adopt towards the poor, the marginalized and the ‘least’ of society? And how many of these ‘least’ do we have in our societies! Among them I think primarily of migrants, with their burden of hardship and suffering, as they seek daily, often in desperation, a place to live in peace and dignity” (Address to the Diplomatic Corps, 11 January 2016). In the logic of the Gospel, the last come first, and we must put ourselves at their service.

“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). It is not just about migrants: it is about the whole person, about all people. In Jesus’ words, we encounter the very heart of his mission: to see that all receive the gift of life in its fullness, according to the will of the Father. In every political activity, in every programme, in every pastoral action we must always put the person at the centre, in his or her many aspects, including the spiritual dimension. And this applies to all people, whose fundamental equality must be recognized. Consequently, “development cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well-rounded; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man” (SAINT PAUL VI, Populorum Progressio, 14).

“So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19). It is not just about migrants: it is about building the city of God and man. In our time, which can also be called the era of migration, many innocent people fall victim to the “great deception” of limitless technological and consumerist development (cf. Laudato Si’, 34). As a result, they undertake a journey towards a “paradise” that inevitably betrays their expectations. Their presence, at times uncomfortable, helps to debunk the myth of a progress that benefits a few while built on the exploitation of many. “We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved. They are an occasion that Providence gives us to help build a more just society, a more perfect democracy, a more united country, a more fraternal world and a more open and evangelical Christian community” (Message for the 2014 World Day of Migrants and Refugees).

Dear brothers and sisters, our response to the challenges posed by contemporary migration can be summed up in four verbs: welcome, protect, promote and integrate. Yet these verbs do not apply only to migrants and refugees. They describe the Church’s mission to all those living in the existential peripheries, who need to be welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated. If we put those four verbs into practice, we will help build the city of God and man. We will promote the integral human development of all people. We will also help the world community to come closer to the goals of sustainable development that it has set for itself and that, lacking such an approach, will prove difficult to achieve.

In a word, it is not only the cause of migrants that is at stake; it is not just about them, but about all of us, and about the present and future of the human family. Migrants, especially those who are most vulnerable, help us to read the “signs of the times”. Through them, the Lord is calling us to conversion, to be set free from exclusivity, indifference and the throw-away culture. Through them, the Lord invites us to embrace fully our Christian life and to contribute, each according to his or her proper vocation, to the building up of a world that is more and more in accord with God’s plan.

In expressing this prayerful hope, and through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Way, I invoke God’s abundant blessings upon all the world’s migrants and refugees and upon all those who accompany them on their journey.

From the Vatican, 30 April 2019


Published in Shared reflections
Wednesday, 01 August 2018 18:15

EUROPE Migrants and Islam

1 August 2018 - Problems and possible solutions to foster coexistence between Christians and Muslims, in Arab countries and in Europe: an interview with Jesuit Fr Samir Khalil Samir, a great Islam expert. The separation between politics and religion in Islam is an urgent need. Egypt and Syria are two cases in point. The war in Iraq (and in Syria) is above all an intra-Islamic war. European countries must push Islamic countries to implement equality among all citizens, regardless of religion, and absolute equality between men and women.

Europeans must give migrants arriving in Europe bread and a roof but also the best of our culture. They must see the Christian ideal of brotherhood, starting from school, teaching respect between Europeans and migrants, boys and girls, Christians and non-Christians, this according to Fr Samir Khalil Samir who in the following interview focuses on problems and possible solutions to foster coexistence between Christians and Muslims, in Arab countries and in Europe.

1. Is Islam a religion of peace?

Yes and no! In the Qur'an, as in Muhammad's conduct, we find both peaceful and violent attitudes. When he still had no power, Muhammad entered Makkah peacefully. In the second phase of his life, in Madinah, he made war and organised raids. This was commonplace in Arabia.

It should be noted that the word "razzia" (raid) (which we find in various western languages) comes from the Arabic word "ghazwa", which means "military expedition". The first Muslim biography of Muhammad, written by Abū 'Abdallāh Muḥammad ibn'Umar al-Wāqidī (747-823), is called Kitāb al-maghāzī or ‘Book of military expeditions’.

After his death, Muslims followed his method and successfully conquered other countries, even if they were in a numerical minority.

Since Islam was a global religious, social and political project, in the new conquered societies, essentially populated by Christians, Muslims were eager to impose their Islamic rules, heavily influenced by Bedouin traditions.

2. Critics say that Islam is not only religion but also political ideology. Can there be an apolitical Islam?

Islam is a global social project. At the beginning it was a religious project, launched by Muhammad, who urged his contemporaries to abandon the worship of various deities in favour of a single God, Allah. It is clear that at that time the existence of Jews and Christians in the Arabian Peninsula played a significant role in several areas, facilitating this evolution.

But Islam is also a social and political project: social, to conform to Bedouin customs, with all its traditions and norms; political, to unite the community around a new single project, namely the existence of a single all-powerful God! As a result, the Islamic project includes both religious and political dimensions. This has been the real great problem until the present!

Currently, some Muslim majority states make the distinction between religion and politics. Syria, for example, is a 90 per cent Muslim country, but it has a secular constitution, which was drafted at the request of President Hafez al-Assad, in 1973. The author is an Orthodox Christian, Michel Aflaq, who, with Salah al-Bittar, founded the Baath party in 1947. The president is still a Muslim, but Islam is not the state religion. Every citizen follows his or her religion, but the rules of the Constitution apply to everyone: Muslims, Christians, Jews, atheists ... The basic ideology is characterised by socialist pan-Arabism, which claims to be secular and tries to distinguish between religion and politics.

We could also mention Tunisia under Bourguiba, who, although a Muslim, introduced a certain degree of secularism in in 1956, above all an absolute equality between men and women.

In both cases, the influence of the French presence in these two countries played a crucial role.

3. How can Europe’s political and Church leaders in Europe face the Muslim world? How can dialogue work?

In relations with all states, including Muslim countries, two fundamental principles should always be applied: equality among all citizens, regardless of their religion; absolute equality between men and women. These are the foundation of human dignity.

Consequently, it is not possible to distinguish between a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, a Hindu or a non-believer or an atheist. Everyone has the same rights and the same duties towards the state, before the law. There are no privileges or exceptions. The constitution touches all citizens. Likewise, all the articles of the constitution are valid for men and women, who have the same rights and the same obligations provided for by the law.

In their relations with all Muslim states, including Saudi Arabia, European states should demand that these two principles be put in place and applied. It goes without saying that the countries that dare to do this run the risk of being penalised, compared to other countries. It is therefore important that this decision be taken jointly by all European countries to avoid disparities between them.

This also presupposes that the European Union has a joint committee to monitor the application of this decision, to avoid that these principles are only declared in theory but not applied in practice.

4. In recent years we have witnessed spectacular cases of violence and terror by Islamists against Christians in Islamic countries.

This is an obvious reality. By definition, Islamists are extremist Muslims, who clearly differ from other Muslims because of their fanaticism and simple-minded interpretation of certain traditions. This has led to a blatant injustice towards Christians.

Based on what I have said before, Europe must systematically insist on the absolute equality of treatment between Muslims, Christians and others. Therefore, differences in treatment cannot exist, either because of religion, sex, or other reasons!

Here too, all European states must adopt a common and firm position towards Muslim states.

5. Egypt is your homeland. Is there any discrimination against Christians? What does the government do for the Christian minority?

The differences in treatment are very visible, especially when it comes to building a church, for example, where permission is often denied. This forces Christians to build in secret ... with the risk that their churches will be destroyed one day by fanatics!

President Al-Sisi has made great efforts. He has financed the construction of the largest church in the Middle East, in the future administrative capital of Egypt, east of Cairo. He has celebrated the inauguration of this church (not yet finished) in January 2018 (on Christmas according to the Coptic calendar) ... But the fact remains that more than a thousand churches (among the more than 6,000 that exist in Egypt), are theoretically illegal, because they were built without the necessary permits. So, they are a constant target of attacks by Islamic extremists.

With regard to everyday discrimination, today it is almost impossible for Christians to obtain an important position in an administrative office, despite their qualifications. It was not like that in the past. The situation has worsened due to the growing number of fanatical extremist elements. At this level, the state is absolutely defenceless.

6. In Syria, the long peaceful coexistence of religions has been shaken by years of the civil war. Will the country recover from the conflict, which is also between Muslims and Christians?

The situation in Syria is very different from that in Egypt. In principle, the secular nature of the state has been challenged by a conflict within the Muslim world. Since 1973, the state has been in the hands of the Assad family, who are Alawite, a branch of Shia Islam. The Shias make up about 15 per cent of the Muslim population. Sunni Muslims have launched war against this state. Even in Iraq, the government (after the fall of Saddam Hussein) is in the hands of the Shias. Iraq and Syria are the only Arab states in which the Shias are in power.

The Islamic State (IS) group originated in Iraq. Its full name is "Islamic State for Iraq and Syria" (ISIS). What we have witnessed is an intra-Islamic war between Shias and Sunnis. ISIS is also widely financed by the richest Sunni state, namely Saudi Arabia, which is blindly supported by the United States and, in part, by some European countries.

This explains the American and European coalition against Syria and Russia's support for Syria. The dead are all Syrians, whether they are Sunnis, Alawites or others.

The bombardment of cities, including Damascus, Homs and Aleppo, has also affected many Christians. Many had to flee and seek refuge wherever they could. Europe has made a colossal effort to welcome them, especially Germany. Refugees were often Muslims, Christians were forgotten.

At present, the country is recovering very slowly. The problems are far from being solved and the number of migrants runs in the millions: nobody knows if they can ever return to their country.

Again, religious fanaticism – this time among Muslim sects – has completely destroyed the country. And Islam’s fundamental problem reappears automatically, because Islam is both a political and religious project.

7. What can be done for Christians in the Middle East so that they remain and not emigrate?

Christians are not the cause of their problems. A certain vision in Islam is, one that discriminates between Muslims and others on religious grounds. For this reason, we must work on Muslims. It is about changing the way of thinking, from the religious to the political sphere.

It is a cultural problem, linked to the concept of religion itself. Even Christianity has known this identification between religion and politics and had to slowly get rid of it.

This is more difficult for our Muslim brothers, because the unity of religion and politics is complete from the beginning. Europe could help the Muslim world culturally, setting clear conditions for the use of European aid. Many Muslims would also very appreciate such a contribution.

A similar problem can be found in the State of Israel, where state and religion mingle, to the point of creating injustices for those who are not Jewish (especially Muslims). This Israeli position strengthens the position of extremist Muslims.

Europe does not seriously take these dimensions of the problem.

8. Can Muslims be successfully integrated in European society?

I would say yes and this can happen through education and practice; first of all, in schools. Here, the future can be prepared by treating boys and girls, native Europeans and migrants, Christians and non-Christians, and so on, with the same respect.

In everyday life, everyone should be treated the same way, with more understanding for someone who has just arrived, with all the requirements of the country: not only in visible things but also in private life, in the conduct between men and women, boys and girls, Muslims and non-Muslims, in education as well as social life and laws.

In short, it is about educating the mindset of immigrants, for the better, hoping as well that they will also teach it to those who have remained in their countries of origin, or those who will one day return.

Material aid for migrants - bread, a roof - is not enough. It's a lot but it's not enough! Migrants must also be culturally helped to the spiritual dimension, European and Christian ideals, universal brotherhood. Give onto others, whomever they may be, the best we have, especially true, absolute and universal brotherhood, as the Gospel teaches us!


Published in News
Tuesday, 21 February 2017 15:05

Reggio C. ongoing solidarity

* On the 2nd February in the port of Reggio Calabria, there was a long applause. As soon as the ship “U. Diciotti CP 941” berthed, the migrants on board couldn’t hold back their joy for having arrived safe and sound.... 754 migrants hailing from various African countries : 575 men, 24 women – 4 of them pregnant - and 155 minors, of whom 148 were unaccompanied have been salvaged during the day at about 20 miles away from the Libyan coasts. They were travelling on wooden boats and rubber dinghies. The operations of first aid and assistance are coordinated by the Prefecture. Soon after the migrants’ arrival, they were medically examined by the medical personnel and assisted by voluntary Associations, even though there weren’t any visible particular needs. The doctors verified the presence of some wounded individuals: two were injured with a gun, another two were suffering from groin hernia while another one was suffering from a bad wound in his head.

The migrants will then be transferred to other provinces according to the Plan prepared by the Minister of Internal Affairs.

The guarantor for Children and Adolescents speaks of an authentic human drift of apocalyptic dimensions. We lack welcoming centres.... “Reggio Calabria cannot cope without structures” but “we will welcome them… especially the minors…”

foto reggio

* “Precisely on the 2nd February, we found ourselves at the port to serve the migrants. People saw us there and someone expressed himself in this manner.”

Sr Lidia Gatti “It’s not visible on the diary It was beautiful yesterday, the day consecrated to those who have offered their life to God. I really enjoyed myself looking at such an image...

There are 5 consecrated persons from various congregations... and also the dear Miss Anne, a Christian of the Evangelical church. The richness in diversity which is meaningful and is only Christ centred is encountered on the road and in the cross of every man... fully and particularly in the poor and the socially excluded... through which one discovers to be needy and always Welcomed by the Father...

Life reaches its true fulfilment in Union with God... who extends the heart and opens widely the doors of His Love! Thank you sisters and dear friends for your witness of Love!” Michele D'Agostino 3rd February, in the neighbourhood of Reggio Calabria

Published in Shared reflections

6th February 2016 - At least 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared after arriving in Europe, according to the EU’s criminal intelligence agency. Many are feared to have fallen into the hands of organised trafficking syndicates.

In the first attempt by law enforcement agencies to quantify one of the mostworrying aspects of the migrant crisis, Europol’s chief of staff told the Observerthat thousands of vulnerable minors had vanished after registering with state authorities.

Brian Donald said 5,000 children had disappeared in Italy alone, while another 1,000 were unaccounted for in Sweden. He warned that a sophisticated pan-European “criminal infrastructure” was now targeting refugees. “It’s not unreasonable to say that we’re looking at 10,000-plus children. Not all of them will be criminally exploited; some might have been passed on to family members. We just don’t know where they are, what they’re doing or whom they are with.”

The plight of unaccompanied child refugees has emerged as one of the most pressing issues in the migrant crisis. Last week it was announced that Britain would accept more unaccompanied minors from Syria and other conflict zones. According to Save the Children, an estimated 26,000 unaccompanied children entered Europe last year. Europol, which has a 900-strong force of intelligence analysts and police liaison officers, believes 27% of the million arrivals in Europe last year were minors.

“Whether they are registered or not, we’re talking about 270,000 children. Not all of those are unaccompanied, but we also have evidence that a large proportion might be,” said Donald, indicating that the 10,000 figure is likely to be a conservative estimate of the actual number of unaccompanied minors who have disappeared since entering Europe.

In October, officials in Trelleborg, southern Sweden, revealed that some 1,000 unaccompanied refugee children who had arrived in the port town over the previous month had gone missing. On Tuesday a separate report, again from Sweden, warned that many unaccompanied refugees vanished and that there was “very little information about what happens after the disappearance”.

In the UK the number of children who disappear soon after arriving as asylum seekers has doubled over the past year, raising fears that they are also being targeted by criminal gangs.


Mariyana Berket, of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said: “Unaccompanied minors from regions of conflict are by far the most vulnerable population; those without parental care that have either been sent by their families to get into Europe first and then get the family over, or have fled with other family members.”

Donald confirmed Europol had received evidence some unaccompanied child refugees in Europe had been sexually exploited. In Germany and Hungary, the former a popular destination country for refugees and migrants, with the latter an important transit state, large numbers of criminals had been caught exploiting migrants, he said. “An entire [criminal] infrastructure has developed over the past 18 months around exploiting the migrant flow. There are prisons in Germany and Hungary where the vast majority of people arrested and placed there are in relation to criminal activity surrounding the migrant crisis,” said Donald.

The police agency has also documented a disturbing crossover between organised gangs helping to smuggle refugees into the EU and human-trafficking gangs exploiting them for sex work and slavery. He said that longstanding criminal gangs known to be involved in human trafficking, whose identity had been logged in the agency’s Phoenix database, were now being caught exploiting refugees.

“The ones who have been active in human smuggling are now appearing in our files in relation to migrant smuggling,” said Donald.

Europol will take evidence from organisations working on the Balkans route, which requested a meeting with the law enforcement agency specifically to discuss children vanishing. “Their concern is in relation to the number of unaccompanied minors. They’re asking for help in identifying how these children are identified and then brought into the criminal infrastructure. They’re dealing with this on a daily basis, they’ve come to us because they see it as a big problem.” He warned the public to be vigilant, stating that most child refugees who had gone missing would be hiding in plain sight. “These kids are in the community, if they’re being abused it’s in the community. They’re not being spirited away and held in the middle of forests, though I suspect some might be, they’re in the community – they’re visible. As a population we need to be alert to this.”

Europe’s chaotic approach to the migration crisis led last week to calls for Greece to be removed from the open-borders Schengen zone, a development that a senior UN official has described as a “new nadir” in the EU’s approach.

Writing in the Observer, the UN special representative on migration, Peter Sutherland, said such a move would “effectively transform it [Greece] into an open-air holding pen for countless thousands of asylum seekers. The idea is inhumane and a gross violation of basic European principles”. (The Gardian)

Published in News

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