Pope Francis’s trip to Greece and Cyprus included a Sunday visit to the island of Lesbos to visit refugees and migrants at the the reception and identification center in Mytilene. This was his second trip to the site in five years, and he lamented the little progress that has been made in that time. He also pointed out that these times—made even more clear during the pandemic—require a collective effort to face the great issues. And while he senses some of that collective effort to make progress on vaccination and climate change, he has not seen any significant progress in the area of migration:
Sisters and brothers, I am here once again, to meet you and to assure you of my closeness. I say it from the heart. I am here to see your faces and look into your eyes. Eyes full of fear and expectancy, eyes that have seen violence and poverty, eyes streaked by too many tears. Five years ago on this island, the Ecumenical Patriarch, my dear brother Bartholomew, said something that struck me: “Those who are afraid of you have not looked you in the eye. Those who are afraid of you have not seen your faces. Those who fear you have not seen your children. They have forgotten that dignity and freedom transcend fear and division. They have forgotten that migration is not an issue for the Middle East and Northern Africa, for Europe and Greece. It is an issue for the world” (Address, 16 April 2016).
It is an issue for the whole world: a humanitarian crisis that concerns everyone. The pandemic has had a global impact; it has made us realize that we are all on the same boat; it has made us experience what it means to have identical fears. We have come to understand that the great issues must be faced together, since in today’s world piecemeal solutions are inadequate. Yet while we are working to vaccinate people worldwide and, despite many delays and hesitations, progress is being made in the fight against climate change, all this seems to be terribly absent when it comes to migration. Yet human lives, real people, are at stake! The future of us all is at stake, and that future will be peaceful only if it is integrated. Only if it is reconciled with the most vulnerable will the future be prosperous. When we reject the poor, we reject peace.
He continued, praising the efforts of people, including volunteers, who have worked to help migrants, but lamented the lack of political urgency on the part of the countries as a whole (emphasis added):
After all this time, we see that little has changed with regard to the issue of migration. To be sure, many people have committed themselves to the work of welcoming and integrating. I want to thank the many volunteers and all those at every level – institutional, social, charitable and political – who have made great efforts to care for individuals and to address the issue of migration. I also acknowledge the efforts made to finance and build dignified reception facilities, and I cordially thank the local population for the great good they have accomplished and for the many sacrifices they have made. I also thank the local authorities for welcoming and looking after the people coming to us. Thank you for what you are doing! Yet, with deep regret, we must admit that this country, like others, continues to be hard-pressed, and that in Europe there are those who persist in treating the problem as a matter that does not concern them. This is tragic.
He also lamented the way that the people of various countries view the migrants they receive and their cultures:
In various societies, security and solidarity, local and universal concerns, tradition and openness are being ideologically contraposed. Rather than bickering over ideas, it would be better to begin with reality: to pause and broaden our gaze to take in the problems of the majority of humanity, of all those peoples who are victims of humanitarian emergencies they did not create, yet have to endure as the latest chapter in a long history of exploitation. It is easy to stir up public opinion by instilling fear of others. Yet why do we fail to speak with equal vehemence about the exploitation of the poor, about seldom-mentioned but often well-financed wars, about economic agreements where the people have to pay, about covert deals to traffic in arms, favouring the proliferation of the arms trade? Why is this not spoken of? The remote causes should be attacked, not the poor people who pay the consequences and are even used for political propaganda. To remove the root causes, more is needed than merely patching up emergency situations. Coordinated actions are needed. Epochal changes have to be approached with a breadth of vision. There are no easy answers to complex problems; instead, we need to accompany processes from within, to overcome ghettoization and foster a slow and necessary integration, to accept the cultures and traditions of others in a fraternal and responsible way.
The final quote I’ll share comes earlier in the address, regarding the fact that we must face the reality of an increasingly globalized world, and therefore cannot ignore the need to learn to accept and care for one another:
It is an illusion to think it is enough to keep ourselves safe, to defend ourselves from those in greater need who knock at our door. In the future, we will have more and more contact with others. To turn it to the good, what is needed are not unilateral actions but wide-ranging policies. Let me repeat: history teaches this lesson, yet we have not learned it. Let us stop ignoring reality, stop constantly shifting responsibility, stop passing off the issue of migration to others, as if it mattered to no one and was only a pointless burden to be shouldered by somebody else!
Image: Vatican News
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.