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Migrants: Fr Luis Okulik (CCEE), “concerns over the short circuit of Europe’s ruling class”

“The short circuit of Europe’s ruling class is reason for concern, for it focuses on individual positions and on taking sides. What is less evident is the commitment to face and handle this situation in full. Europe appears to have fallen into a clouding of consciousness preventing it from understanding the tragedy of this human phenomenon.” Interview with Fr Luis Okulik, Secretary of the Commission for Pastoral Care of Social Issues of the Council of European Bishops’ Conference (CCEE), at the end of the Annual Meeting of Bishops and Delegates in charge of the Pastoral Care of Migrants held a few days ago in Stockholm

“The issue has become increasingly complex precisely because, at the level of European politics, there are differences that are hard to reconcile.” Through this European “interpretative key” Fr Luis Okulik, Secretary of the Commission for the Pastoral Care of Social Issues of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE), commented on the arrival of 450 migrants in the city of Pozzallo, who were left at sea waiting for authorized disembarkation. “As a result – continued the priest in his analysis – the choices made probably tend to break the standstill. However, more attention should be given to the fact that all political decisions affect the life of people who already carry the heavy burden of suffering.” This issue was addressed in the Annual Meeting of Bishops and Delegates in charge of the Pastoral Care of Migrants of Bishops’ Conferences in Europe. SIR contacted him by phone at the end of the meeting. Fr Okulik promptly proposed:

“This reality must be viewed without getting discouraged and without getting accustomed to it. Habits can lead to feelings of indifference that do not belong to Christians.”

Is it an indifference, or rather, is it a form of ignorance of the realities that the migrant populations come from?

Both. To repeatedly take stock of an event that takes place in modern culture often also leads to indifference because the element of newness is missing. In most cases, people don’t have complete picture of the phenomenon at stake. There is a tendency to view the issue of migration as something confined to arrivals into Europe, forgetting the events that built up for years, long before the migrant person landed on the Mediterranean shores. These people fled from fragmented Countries, or from Countries with disrupted political systems, or from longstanding situations of heinous violence. On top of this, over the past years, climate changes have forced entire peoples to flee, because of the transformation of their arable lands into desert.

In a Tweet in response to the request of Italian PM Conte to EU Countries to take on some of the 450 migrants who arrived in Pozzallo, Czech Premier Andrej Babis wrote: “Such an approach is a road to hell.” A part of Europe continues erecting walls.

I didn’t see the Tweet. But for sure the short circuit of the European ruling class is reason for concern for it focuses on individual positions and on taking sides. What is less evident is the commitment to address the situation in full and handle it as it should.

Europe appears to have fallen into a clouding of consciousness

That prevents people from grasping the tragedy of this human phenomenon affecting not only Europe, as it involves millions of people worldwide. Until it is clear that the vision must be overarching and more complete, many of the solutions presented will be short-lived because they focus on an emergency situation but they fail to address the root causes.

The bishops and delegates in charge of the pastoral care of migrants at European Bishops’ Conferences held their annual meeting in Stockholm a few days ago. What did you discuss?

Over the past years we noted that the question of communication was growing increasingly important. We discussed the ways in which the news media report the migration phenomenon and how public opinion is shaped, as it often has a very negative understanding of this issue. At the same time we reflected on how to communicate our activity in a positive way.

The Catholic Church has been dedicating her efforts to migration since time immemorial. Unless the activity on the ground is communicated, there is a risk of affecting, sometimes in ambivalent or even negative ways, the same Christian communities.  

The fear of the migration phenomenon is being used instrumentally for political strategies. How can truthful information be conveyed?

It is not the responsibility of the Church to counter every political intervention. The latter are acknowledged because it’s important to do so. However, given her activity on the ground, the Catholic Church is well aware that the reality as it is depicted is always the result of a restricted view. For example: the incident of the Aquarius migrant ship and its arrival in Spain hit the news for many days. But nobody reflected on the fact that while those people were arriving in Valencia, approximately 2500 were arriving through Ceuta. Or that while today we discuss about these 450 migrants in Pozzallo, the flow between Turkey and Greece’s border is being contained. Thus reality is much more comprehensive and complex. Those working in parishes are aware of the perplexities of many of our faithful. It’s an understandable fear, that must be embraced and accompanied. The wave of negativity characterising the reactions to this phenomenon must be countered simply by informing on what is being done, thus telling the stories underlying it, and most of all by promoting occasions for encounter. These opportunities humanly change the perspective.


Through the encounter with migrants we realize first of all that human suffering can leave an indelible scar in that person. It leaves a gaze of fear and uncertainty towards the future.

The helping hand that is extended to them is often the only human relief in their very long journey. The Church does her utmost to preserve this humanity that has always characterised her commitment, including assistance to those in need. Obviously this includes the effort to keep an open channel of dialogue with institutions and governments, since we firmly believe that all those responsible for providing civil assistance to people must be directly involved. It must be clear that what is done is not the result of an emergency situation but that it serves the dignity of the human person.

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