Sunday 26. September 2021
#200 - January 2017

Fighting polarisation and misuse of the refugee crisis

This year’s meeting between the EU and high level religious leaders was devoted to the theme “Migrations, Integration, European values: from words to action”. The following is taken from the speech of Mgr. Jean Kockerols in which he explained his interpretation of the Catholic Church’s position on the migrant crisis.

In my capacity as representative of COMECE, which is a group of Catholic bishops from the EU Member States, I would like to share with you several concerns, facts and convictions on the subject of the refugee crisis.


Concerns: This crisis has undermined the common position in the EU and also – let’s not hide this fact – even within the churches in Europe. Despite the never-ending appeals from Pope Francis, the inward-looking positions and lack of courage shown by certain governments are influencing the reactions of some of the local churches. Moreover, this crisis has challenged Christian communities to take a stand, both as private citizens and as people of faith, especially when confronted with followers of Islam. But the Church is committed to fight against the lack of mutual understanding and the vague fears that this engenders. The very fact of being a Catholic should provide a spur to oppose the way in which migration has become a source of polarisation misuse. The Church refuses to endorse any radicalisation of opinions. The Church is nevertheless worried that certain political policies are, quite apart from their being a response to sometimes legitimate concerns, in fact posing serious threats to the rule of law.


Facts: Responding to the Pope’s call, local churches have delivered extraordinary support in the context of the refugee crisis. This is seen not just in the reception facilities set up for initial welcome, but also in their promotion of a longer-term social integration of refugees, The Catholic charity, Caritas has branches working in every country, including Belgium, and is providing assistance going well beyond a short-term emotional response. The Church’s working perspectives are long term, both for the receiving countries and for the countries from whence the migrants came. It is in the latter countries where permanent answers need to be found to injustice and violence.


Convictions: Migration and its accompanying ethic, hospitality, are both realities that form the very base of the Christian religion. Abraham, the father of believers, was himself a migrant. The Holy Family took refuge in Egypt. The Word of God “came down to His own kind” (yet they did not recognise Him). In short, the Catholic Church cannot, any more than the EU’s official institutions, address the issue of migrants as a “problem”, but must view it purely as a consequence of circumstances. The Church approaches this challenge by placing it into context with the other realities that she deems essential: the dignity of every human being, and the necessary commitment to the service of any neighbour who is suffering, in whom a Christian will recognise the face of Christ. The Church should not therefore hold back from issuing reminders – welcome or unwelcome – that every refugee has the right to a fair and humane treatment. “The question of a common solution to the refugee crisis is a question that touches directly on the values and the future of Europe.” In her discussions with the EU’s official bodies, the Church commits herself to this utterly. As the Dutch philosopher Luuk Van Middlelaar puts it so starkly, “a migrant is not a codfish.”



+ Jean Kockerols

First Vice-President of COMECE


Translated from the original text in French


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Editors-in-Chief: Martin Maier SJ

Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.