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Pope reiterates his appeal for better treatment for migrants

25 August 2017


Marian sign: a refugee, previously evicted by police from an empty palace in Piazza Indipendenza, Rome, and one of about 200 forced to camp in a park, displays his personal items after the police allowed people to recover possessions on Monday

Marian sign: a refugee, previously evicted by police from an empty palace in Piazza Indipendenza, Rome, and one of about 200 forced to camp in a park,...

POPE FRANCIS has once again urged the global community to respond to the migrant crisis by creating more safe and legal pathways to resettlement, in a statement released before a UN summit in New York next month.

In a lengthy statement released last week, the Pope outlined how refugees and migrants should be treated, taking his cue from a verse in Leviticus in which God commands the Israelites to welcome “the stranger who sojourns with you”.

“Throughout the first years of my pontificate, I have repeatedly expressed my particular concern for the lamentable situation of many migrants and refugees fleeing from war, persecution, natural disasters, and poverty,” he said.

The world’s response to this must be shaped by four verbs, he went on: “To welcome, to protect, to promote, and to integrate.” His statement was released alongside a 20-point action-plan drawn up by the Vatican’s migrants and refugees department, itself established and overseen by the Pope last year.

God has entrusted to the “Church’s motherly love” everyone who is forced to leave their home country in search of a better tomorrow, he said. “This solidarity must be concretely expressed at every stage of the migratory experience — from departure through journey to arrival and return.”

The statement condemns governments that arbitrarily expel migrants, particularly when they return migrants to countries with poor human-rights records.

And countries that refuse to welcome refugees because of fears that they threaten a way of life were also chastised by the Pope: “The principle of the centrality of the human person . . . obliges us to always prioritise personal safety over national security.”

Every migrant must be guaranteed not only their security but also access to basic services such as health care and education, consular assistance, access to justice, a bank account, the freedom to move around and work, and a “minimum sufficient to live on”.

At the current time, during the largest wave of global migration since the Second World War, the most pressing need was for nations to establish safe and legal routes for refugees and migrants, including simple humanitarian visas and family reunification schemes, Pope Francis said.

Twelve months ago, world leaders gathered at a UN conference and promised to set up two Global Compacts — one for refugees, and the other for migrants — by the end of 2018 (News, 23 September).

Ahead of a follow-up meeting at the UN’s headquarters in New York next month, Pope Francis called on every Christian to press for a swift approval of Compacts which respect rights and save lives.

“I invite you, therefore, to use every occasion to share this message with all political and social actors involved in the process,” he said.

The statement was released on the feast of the Assumption of Mary, who herself “experienced the hardship of exile”, the Pope noted. “To her maternal intercession we entrust the hopes of all the world’s migrants and refugees, and the aspirations of the communities which welcome them; so that, responding to the Lord’s supreme commandment, we may all learn to love the other, the stranger, as ourselves.”

The Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Revd Jonathan Clark, who also chairs the Churches Refugee Network, said that the Pope’s intervention was welcome.

“I know that churches and faith groups across the country are working hard to make refugees welcome. In doing do, we stand alongside so many religious communities, especially in the poorest countries, who are on the frontline of providing sanctuary to many millions of people fleeing their lives. Their generosity must be a reminder to us in the UK that we can and must do more.”

The Church has a “special responsibility” to ensure that Pope Francis’s message, the voices of refugees themselves, was heeded by political leaders, Bishop Clark said.

Christian Aid has also praised the Pope’s statement. Its head of advocacy, Laura Taylor, said: “At a time when the news is dominated by politics that is seemingly determined to divide us, faith leaders have a unique ability to speak across borders and remind us of our common humanity.

“But the forgotten crisis is the 40 million internally displaced people who need refuge within their own borders. This equates to two-thirds of people who are forced from their home, and yet they remain outside of our consciousness and the world’s interest.”

The head of policy at CAFOD, Graham Gordon, said that Pope Francis was reminding politicians that they would be judged by history on whether they rose to the refugee crisis — “the greatest crises of this century so far” — or whether they abdicated their responsibilities.

“The Church worldwide is committed to sharing the journey of people on the move, whether they are leaving, arriving, settling, or returning. But it’s necessary for governments to play their part.”

Mission agencies launch refugee campaign. A coalition of European mission agencies will launch a new evangelistic campaign to reach refugees and migrants who have made it to safety with the gospel in the autumn.

The campaign, #HowWillTheyHear, is being co-ordinated by Serving in Mission (SIM), and also includes Greater Europe Mission, the German mission agency DMG, the pan-European church-planting network European Mission Fellowship, and European Christian Mission.

The organisations hope to inspire Christians across Europe to pray for, and take part in, evangelism among newly arrived migrants and refugees.

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