Vatican City, 31 May 2013 (VIS) – “Welcoming Christ in Refugees and Forcibly Displaced Persons” is the title of the document prepared by the Pontifical Councils for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples and "Cor Unum", which was presented this morning at a press conference in the Holy See Press Office. Speaking at the conference were Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio and Cardinal Robert Sarah, respectively presidents of the two dicasteries. Also participating in the presentation were: Mr. Johan Ketelers, secretary general of the International Catholic Migration Commission (CICM) and Dr. Katrine Camilleri, assistant director of Jesuit Refugee Service Malta and recipient of the 2007 Nansen Refugee Award (United Nations Refugee Award, ACNUR-UNHCR).
“Our document,” explained Cardinal Veglio, “is a pastoral guide that starts from a fundamental premise, ... which is that every policy, initiative, or intervention in this area must be guided by the principle of the centrality and dignity of every human person. … Indeed, this is the pivot of the Church's social doctrine: 'individual human beings are the foundation, the cause and the end of every social institution'. Refugees, asylum seekers, and the forcibly displaced, therefore, are persons whose dignity must be protected, indeed, it must be the absolute priority. This is why the document recalls the rights granted to each refugee, which promote the individuals' well-being. These are well described in the 1951 Refugee Convention.”
“Governments must respect these rights while further [rights to be extended] to the people involved in forced migration must be studied. Protection must be guaranteed to all who live under conditions of forced migration, taking into account their specific needs, which can vary from a residency permit for victims of human trafficking to the possibility of being granted citizenship for those who are stateless,” the cardinal observed. On the contrary, he noted, it is occurring more and more frequently that refugees are subjected to confined detention, interment in refugee camps, and having their freedom to travel and their right to work restricted.
“It would be very different if their recognized and declared rights were properly respected. After all, the States have established and ratified these convention to ensure that individuals' rights do not remain just proclaimed ideals or commitments that are subscribed to but not honoured. … The Church, for her part, is convinced that the pastoral care for all persons who, in various ways, are involved in forced migration is a collective responsibility, as well as [the responsibility] of each individual believer. … In close connection to moral values and the Christian vision, we mean to save human lives, to restore dignity to persons, to offer hope, and to give adequate social and communal responses. Letting ourselves be challenged by the presence of refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons who have been forcibly displace compels us to go out of our closed world, which is familiar to us, toward the unknown, in mission, in the courageous witness of evangelization,” the prelate concluded.
Cardinal Sarah then referred to the four million displaced persons within Syria, noting the 80,000 deaths, in less than two years, that have been “collateral effects” of the conflict. In this regard he observed that, up until the 1950's, in war there was a proportion of 1 civilian victim to 9 military casualties while today that amount has been inverted and dozens of thousands of people are in flight, “in the attempt to, at least, save their lives”.
He also referenced the population of the Sahel region of Africa, condemned to hunger because of drought, likening the situation to that in the American states that have recently been hit by tornadoes. He emphasized that, “at whatever latitude, the fight against against natural catastrophes is absolutely unequal and gives a sense of how humanity is at the mercy of nature instead of being its responsible custodian.” The cardinal did not overlook those who, even in Europe, are unemployed and condemned to “a 'structural poverty', who pay the price of political choices with their own lives”. Many of these persons chose the path of emigration, unleashing the “phenomenon of a flight of [intellectuals], which further and permanently impoverishes their country of origin”.
In this state of things “the Church intervenes in different ways according to her ability, mainly thanks to the worthy work of her charitable organizations and their volunteers”. But “charity, first of all, is wed to the individual … charity isn't a window or a register. Whoever is in need must be able to find a good Samaritan whose heart beats with theirs because they are made alike and because [the good Samaritan] serves Christ [in serving their neighbour in need].” In the same way, charity “has a plural dimension: the refugee, the impoverished, the suffering need a network of ecclesial support that embraces and assimilates them … recognizing the dignity of the person and making them again feel part of the human family, respecting their identity and their faith” because “the Christian community is called to live the ecclesial dimension of charity”.