Address - Προσλαλιά

ADDRESS By His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew At the Concordia Europe Summit “Migration Challenging European Identity” June 7, 2017, Athens, Greece

The twenty-first century began as the century of migrants and refugees. Endless caravans, a widespread flood of children, men and women seeking protection and security—victims of violence, poverty, famine, and climate change—forced to leave their homes by wars and armed conflicts. According to the last annual report of the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of migrants and displaced persons on our planet is more than 65 million of our fellow human beings.

The presence of these refugees and asylum seekers, of labor migrants and undocumented migrants, of trafficked persons, and of those searching for their lost families, is a hard everyday reality in many countries. Their vulnerability and suffering confront us, disrupt us, and emotionally seize our conscience. We experience this contemporary global social crisis caused by globalization and armed conflicts, as a crisis not only of politics and economy, but of the very essence of our religious faith and our fundamental moral and ethical responsibilities.

For Christian Churches, the migration and refugee crisis challenges our central biblical and ecclesial principles. Hospitality for the foreigner is at the core of the life and the pastoral mission of the Church. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we witness unconditional love and compassion. We see how we must become a “neighbor” (πλησίον) to everyone who needs our support, regardless of their social, religious, cultural, or political affiliation. It should be impossible to close our ears to the cry of the refugees, of all the needy, vulnerable and exploited people. Every human being, created in God’s image and likeness (Gen. 1.26), possesses an incalculable and precious dignity. There is nothing more sacred than the human person.

Throughout its history, the Church has emphasized the support of disadvantaged and suffering people. This “culture of support” has been called “one of the permanent contributions of Christianity to the history of human civilization” (W. Huber, Die Kirche in der Zeitenwende, 320). Churches have ever been prophetic on burning issues of injustice and violence, protecting the oppressed and fostering a culture of solidarity.

Defending the dignity of refugees and migrants is nothing less than the Church fulfilling its mission of diakonia in the world. The Orthodox Church clearly expressed this spirit in the Encyclical of the Holy and Great Council (Crete, June 2016), which addressed the main challenges for humanity today. Referring to the problem of migration and refugees the Encyclical states:

“The contemporary and ever intensifying refugee and migrant crisis, due to political, economic and environmental causes, is at the center of the world’s attention. The Orthodox Church has always treated and continues to treat those who are persecuted, in danger and in need on the basis of the Lord’s words: ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, and was a stranger and you took me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to me’, and ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brethren, you did for me’ (Matt 25.40). Throughout its history, the Church was always on the side of the ‘weary and heavy laden’ (cf. Matt 11.28). At no time was the Church’s philanthropic work limited merely to circumstantial good deeds toward the needy and suffering, but rather it sought to eradicate the causes which create social problems. The Church’s ‘work of service’ (Eph 4.12) is recognized by everyone.

“We appeal therefore first of all to those able to remove the causes for the creation of the refugee crisis to take the necessary positive decisions. We call on the civil authorities, the Orthodox faithful and the other citizens of the countries in which they have sought refuge and continue to seek refuge to accord them every possible assistance, even from out of their own insufficiency.” (§19)

It has been a principal concern, through all twenty-five years of our Patriarchal ministry, to highlight the valuable contribution of all religions to the culture of solidarity, peace, and justice, as well as to explore new ways and possibilities of making religions more effective in confronting social problems and challenges.

In April 2016, we visited the island of Lesvos with our brothers Pope Francis of Rome and Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece, in order to demonstrate, tangibly, our concern for the dramatic situation of the refugees fleeing to Europe from terrible violence and threats to their very lives. In our statement in Lesvos, we said:

“The Mediterranean Sea should not be a tomb. It is a place of life, a crossroad of cultures and civilizations, a place of exchange and dialogue. In order to rediscover its original vocation, the Mare Nostrum, and more specifically the Aegean Sea, where we gather today, must become a sea of peace. We pray that the conflicts in the Middle East, which lie at the root of the migrant crisis, will quickly cease and that peace will be restored. We pray for all the people of this region. We would particularly like to highlight the dramatic situation of Christians in the Middle East, as well as the other ethnic and religious minorities in the region, who need urgent action if we do not want to see them disappear.”

We must work to solve once and for all the conflicts in this region, for they are the very root of this migration and refugee crisis. We are thankful to all the countries that have received these migrants and refugees. We express our sincere gratitude to the people of Greece, one of the European countries most challenged by migration, who, despite a severe economic crisis, have responded and continue to respond with a generosity and compassion that exemplifies the best of the human spirit.

The Orthodox Church in Lesvos, Chios, Kos and elsewhere, as well as dioceses, parishes, and faithful, have had and still have an immense impact on the plight of the refugees: caring for them, providing food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and advocacy.

Indeed, the Greek people have demonstrated the human face of Europe, even as their country is becoming Europe’s greatest refugee hotspot, and some neighboring European countries are closing their borders to migrants and refugees.

The migration crisis challenges the European identity at its deepest core. It has been said, that Europeans would betray their values, “if barbed wire obstacles, tear-gas, water guns and canine units were the instruments to keep refugees far away from the European Union” (H.-G. Pöttering, Predigt, 16.11.2016, 7). It is also unacceptable that some Europeans, who praise human rights and who wish to appear as defenders of a “Christian Europe”, at the same time employ hard language against migrants and refugees, and defend closed European borders. Is it possible for Europe to save its identity by applying double standards? We think not.

It is likewise impossible to confront the refugee and migrant crisis on the basis of a technocratic, bureaucratic and economy-centered Europe. Human persons are not mere objects and numbers. Economy, security, and technology can provide only temporary solutions. It is an illusion to suppose that our modern societies can remain open, democratic, peaceful and human, primarily through economic progress and security measures. An open society loses its openness if the problem of migration is not faced according to the core European values and standards.

Considering how religion can promote social inclusion and justice highlights another commitment that we should pursue. We cannot separate our concern for human dignity, human rights or social justice from our concern for peace and sustainability. These concerns are closely linked. If we value each individual made in the image of God and value every particle of God’s creation, then we must also care for each other and for our world. The ecological problem of pollution is invariably connected to the social problem of poverty; and so all ecological activity is ultimately measured and properly judged by its impact and effect upon other people, and especially the poor. The environmental issue is closely related to our topic today. In fact, climate change will in a near future, if it is not already the case today, impact more and more migration flows related to geopolitical conflicts.

In terms of our concerns for human beings and the protection of environment, Christianity and humanitarian movements come together and go hand in hand. The necessary solution can be found in the eminent tradition of human rights and Christian spirituality. The core of human rights is the protection of human dignity. This is the basis not only of political and individual rights, but also of social, cultural and the “third generation” of human rights, that is, community-rights. These are the corner-stones of European identity. 

Furthermore, it is our conviction that human rights cannot be properly understood apart from their religious roots. Even if the modern movement for human rights initially opposed Christian Churches, and the Churches saw in it a deviation from core Christian principles, a totally secularized Europe would be a Post-Europe. The marginalization of religion does not promote the goals of human rights. Rather, it is another form of fundamentalism, a fundamentalism of modernity.

The existing tensions and differences between secular states and religions do not annul the fact that both are caring for human dignity. A real spiritual and moral renewal of Europe can be founded on a truly human and humane response to the present refugee and migrant crisis.

This crisis is an opportunity for building bridges, for practicing solidarity, instilling confidence, and encouraging cooperation. We need common vision, common mobilization, common initiatives, common action. Indeed, we need one another. We need men and women of peace. Governments and NGOs, religions and humanitarian movements, all must work together. Every institution, every single person of good will, as well as the younger generation who have their own specific responsibility have to contribute to the protection of vulnerable people, to promote hope.

The migration crisis is not only a problem for Europe. It is a matter for the whole of humankind. Social problems touch the bodies and souls of human beings, their freedom and dignity, the sacredness of the human person. In this sense, the struggle against violence is indivisible from our efforts for the protection of the refugees and our struggle against racism, oppression, exploitation, and exclusion.

Let us transform the “threat of otherness” into the opportunity to foster a culture of solidarity and inclusion. Secular states and governments should see religious faith as an ally. Religion plays a pivotal role not only in personal life, but is a major social force. Faith inspires. It inspires the struggle against the powers of inhumanity. Faith is a source of spiritual strength and of a permanent awareness and engagement against the threats to human dignity. True faith encourages us to continue our efforts for a just world, even when the difficulties, the impasses, and our human condition discourage us from trying.

We are convinced that religions can strongly contribute to the solution of the migrant and refugee crisis. They can promote peaceful coexistence. They can empower the spirit of solidarity against division and polarization. They support the struggle against injustice and the unceasing task of the protection of human dignity. They can and should support all initiatives in the political sphere that serve freedom and justice.

Consequently, the place of religions facing the immense migration crisis is not on the sidelines. The world expects the common witness of people of faith. It is our duty to promote interreligious dialogue. Communication and openness liberate religions from introversion. The mutual trust between religions is a force supporting universal peace. Antagonism and mistrust are diminishing the capacity of religions to contribute to the culture of solidarity, which is the condition sine qua non for the just solution of the migration problem.

If religions act as forces of justice, they can function as a positive challenge for secular institutions and humanistic movements to discover in them a precious ally for the sacred task of the protection of human dignity.

For us Christians, “God is love” (1 John 4.8). Discrimination of human beings, closing our eyes before the suffering of our brothers and sisters, is the negation of love. Hatred and violence are the negation of human dignity in the name of human selfishness. Hatred and violence in the name of God are a negation of authentic faith and an offense against God. Wherever and whenever love and solidarity are practiced, God is present. We must work constantly, so that the contemporary “return of God” will become a return of the “God of love” and the renewal of the culture of solidarity.