Fears, populism, the culture of hate, seeing our fellow other as a threat: these themes will be discussed during “The World Conference on xenophobia and populist nationalism in the context of global migration” that opened today in Rome. The event will end next Thursday with the participants’ audience with Pope Francis. The initiative is jointly promoted for the first time by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the World Council of Churches (WCC), in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, a sign of the urgent, important challenges that lie ahead. This first meeting brings together governmental, intergovernmental, civil society, academic, religious, and ecumenical leaders and actors from around the globe. “The Christian Churches – in the diversity of their stories, cultures and practices – share the same concern over the refusal to welcome and protect all those forced to leave their homeland for reasons related to violence, poverty, abuse of power or climate change”, Monsignor Bruno-Marie Duffé, Secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told SIR. “How can we welcome and protect migrant people when a relevant number of citizens –including our brothers and sisters in the faith – close their doors to migrants because they believe that the latter ‘destabilize’ their society, nation or community?
Mons. Duffé, racism and xenophobia have written the darkest pages in the history of humanity: genocides, holocaust etc. Why are we witnessing their resurgence today?
We all know the arguments put forward to justify a more or less systematic “rejection of others.” Accordingly, the “other” person – whether foreigner or migrant – is viewed as a threat to the stability of society, to its “unity” and its “future.” There is no doubt that the young generations have lost the memory of the darkest pages in the history of humankind, especially of the years in the first half of the 20th century, of wars and genocides fuelled by racist and anti-Semitic discourse. The present generations in Europe have benefited from a period of security and economic progress and they are afraid that by sharing what they have they could lose the benefits of this period. They believe that migrants pose a risk to the security of their Country. In some cases “migrants” and “strangers” are identified with “criminals” and “terrorists.” This shows that we need to analyse our fears: fear of loss, fear of insecurity, fear of the future.
The stranger is considered responsible for our fears and our uncertainties. It is clear that political realms that intend to break with the humanism of the acceptance of others and with solidarity, exploit these fears and manipulate them. It corresponds to what goes under the name of “populism” in Europe.
How did the Conference of Rome take shape in cooperation with the WCC? Which Message do the Churches intend to convey?
These themes touch the heart of our common faith, namely, the question of kinship and solidarity between human beings inhabiting our planet. If we had the opportunity of sending an appeal to people and communities we would seek to understand what has led and forced so many men, women and children to leave their homeland to seek protection miles away from their homes. Xenophobia is the fear of whoever does not speak our language or does not share our religious beliefs. Only personal encounter, as reiterated by Pope Francis on several occasions, can help us overcome our fears and enable us to discover the “richness” and the virtues of others, including the poor. Racism is an unacceptable superiority-based ideology that should be denounced as equivalent to the culture of death.
Populism exploits people’s fears: it heralds the future of some and the exclusion of others. Conversely, our Christian hope is hope for everyone, no one excluded.
Which could be the role of the Churches?
The Churches must bear witness with their gaze, with action, with words, and by partaking in a political project that values fundamental rights. As relates to action, the witness of Christian citizens must start with the protection of all those who are suffering and by seeking coexistence-enhancing tools involving the sharing of responsibilities and rights. It’s not a question of being idealists. We must take action because it is urgently needed and because people are in danger. This also involves “upright reflection”, namely, to promote projects and institutions engaged in the respect of the laws and rights.
Against the culture of hate, of mistrust, of division, we must tirelessly repeat that our humanity grows only with the growth and the joy of mutual acceptance, embracing the diversity of our stories and hopes.
Did the Pope follow the preparation of the Conference?
The Pope did not follow us; he preceded us. His message for the World Day of Peace of January 1st 2018 has defined our mission with four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate. His Holiness pointed out that these four verbs, that represent a moral and a political challenge, must be expressed in first person singular and in the first person plural because social peace, that is a more powerful and more beautiful perspective that hate speech, than refusal and stigma, is a home we must continue building together. Everyone must do their share. Working together for the growth and the care of our common home leads to the achievement of peace.