Migrants installed in Briançon station to protest against the closure of a refuge were welcomed in a church on Monday 25 October, while in Calais, two volunteers and a priest begin their third week of hunger strike, in support for exiles. How does the Church position itself in the face of the migration issue?
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Pope Francis on the occasion of World Migrants and Refugees Day, at the Vatican, September 10, 2021.
Migrants welcomed in a church in Briançon, a hunger strike in support of exiles led by a priest in Calais… The migration issue keeps coming up in the public debate. A theme dear to Pope Francis, who regularly takes a stand in favor of welcoming migrants. Himself the son of immigrants, he had marked the spirits from the beginning of his pontificate by choosing the island of Lampedusa for his first trip outside Rome, five months after his election, in 2013.
Pope Francis has since made numerous appeals to brotherhood and symbolic speeches: in front of the European Parliament, in 2014, when he said that “we cannot allow the Mediterranean Sea to become a great cemetery”. Or at the end of summer 2015, when he called on “every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe” to welcome “a family” of refugees.
The following year, the encyclical Fratelli tutti reaffirmed the need to “welcome, protect, promote and integrate” women and men in search of a future outside their country of origin.
Does Pope Francis’ position contrast with that of previous popes? “There is of course a break in the style, François is more eloquent, the question is close to his heart personally. But basically, he says the same thing as his predecessors, “said Father Christian Mellon, a Jesuit, member of the Center for Research and Social Action.
The concern is therefore not new: World Migrant and Refugee Day was established in 1914 by Benedict XV, while the first Roman document to explore the question, Exsul familia, dates from 1952.
“The right to leave one’s country of origin, regardless of the reason, was regularly recalled by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It is a traditional subject in the Church, because welcoming the foreigner represents an opportunity to recognize the face of Christ “, explains Father Antoine Paumard, Jesuit and director of the Jesuit Refugee Service.
Already in 1996, John Paul II addressed the sensitive issue of immigrants in an illegal situation, asking that they be “recognized and welcomed as brothers” in the Church. To the Bible question “What have you done with your brother? The answer should not be given “within the limits imposed by law, but in the perspective of solidarity,” he added, thus paving the way for civil disobedience.
The reception of migrants is part of article 2241 of the catechism of the Church, which specifies that “the better-endowed nations are bound to welcome as much as possible the foreigner in search of security and of the vital resources that they can find. ‘he can only find in his country of origin’. However, “the Catholic authorities do not advocate a total opening of the borders”, recalls Father Christian Mellon.
“The formula ‘as far as possible” exempts a state from welcoming migrants if that state does not have the capacity, “added Father Antoine Paumard. It is therefore up to the States to take the decision to open their borders, taking into account the concept of “common good”, that is to say the proper functioning of the host society.
If welcoming people in exile represents a risk for the country’s structures, migration regulations can be justified, according to Catholic doctrine. To determine the capacity or not of a state to welcome migrants, Father Antoine Paumard recognizes that “the Church gives the keys to discernment, but she does not say what to do”.
While in Calais, three people, including a Jesuit, lead a hunger strike in a church in
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