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COREW text
Thank you.
How I got involved in these questions, as a theologian.
What I will do today: chicken and egg, horse and cart between mine and
Sarah’s presentations
Last year in excess of 700,000 refugees and migrants were estimated to have
arrived in Europe by sea, with more than 3,000 recorded deaths en route. Over
500,000 of those sea arrivals claimed asylum in Europe. The majority of arriving
migrants report their nationalities as Syrian, Afghan, Kosovan, Eritrean,
Somalian, Albanian, Pakistani, Ukrainian, Serbian, Iraqi and Nigerian. In reality
the numbers of migrants actually granted asylum in Europe will remain small
with, for example, around 60% of applicants typically refused status in recent
years in the UK. Of this large number refused status only a small number return
forcibly or voluntarily with the majority remaining in situ but living without the
protections afforded by any meaningful form of political membership.
This is the migration that is perhaps most visible to us through media reports,
but the scale of global migration puts the European picture into relief. Massive
internal displacement of peoples, environmental migration and religious
persecution are largely ignored by European media. I have just returned from
Eastern Europe where the impact of emigration on Poland, Ukraine, Romania is
immense. This is to say nothing of the hidden reality of human trafficking.
It would be impossible for me to cover the implications of this global picture in
the next half hour or so, and I know Sarah will do a much more extensive
mapping of who is on the move and why in her talk. So, instead what I will do is
the following: I will run through some of the ways that contemporary
theologians and catholic social teaching has been thinking about migration,
before concluding by drawing out three or four features that I think bear
particular theological significance and pastoral and political challenge for us in
the UK.
First, a little note on terminology and framework: It is very important that from
the outset we think very carefully about how we are thinking about churches and
about migrants and refugees. As African Jesuit theologian Orabator reminds us:
a) Christianity can claim no exclusive concern for the migrant, we build upon
ancient value systems and traditions and continue to share teaching in common
with other religious and secular traditions b) religion fails migrants just as the
state and the market does: religious communities can cause conflict and
displacement as much as care for those who are displaced c) there are no easy
answers as we seek to relate the impulses of our faith traditions to political and
economic processes – there will be disagreement, but there must be a basis for
action nonetheless.
Equal care needs to be taken with the way we think about the person of the
refugee or migrant. A) We need to create legal categories to distinguish between
peoples experiences and to judge their claims to entry, but in reality no human
life fits easily into such categories, and many migrants now fit multiple such
categories over time. B) the dominant images we are presented with by our
media are of refugees and migrants as either unwelcome invaders or suffering
victims. Theology tries hard to resist the lure of either of these – this is not to
doubt the suffering of migrants but rather to suggest that refugees and migrants
are also persons with agency, with hope and courage and a desperate desire for
self-determination. One way to consider refugees and migrants as persons with
agency is to pay attention to the role that faith or religious belief plays in the
experience of migration. Whilst it is not often talked about we know that
religious belief plays a significant spiritual and psychological role in the lives of
many migrants, providing a source of comfort, identity, hope, resistance and also
challenge at a time when much is in flux.1 As fellow believers we need to
recognise that we meet not only human need or human challenge in the context
of the current ‘crisis’ but also we meet migrants and refugees as creative authors
of religious traditions – we meet the Church on the move. (Use image of St
Michael’s, Calais – tell story).
This shouldn't surprise us of course because this theme has strong biblical
parallels. I want to spend a few minutes now looking at the way that Catholic
social teaching has reflected on the challenge of contemporary migration from
within the story of faith.
Migration has been a significant theme for the church’s social teaching since at
least the 1850’s. In its earliest stages reflection focused on the desire to make
provision for the religious needs of migrants, but this developed over the course
of a century into a more structural set of reflections on the political and
economic conditions that impelled migration (push and pull factors). By the time
of the publication of the apostolic constitution on migration, Exsul Familia in
1952, a more systematic theological reflection had entered the social teaching
tradition. Exsul Familia introduced the idea that the biblical and doctrinal
tradition itself might be viewed as historical deposit of thoughts about migration.
The Holy Family were both the models and protectors for all displaced persons,
the Church had always had a role in exercising the works of mercy, drawn from
Matthew 25, and any analysis of modern patterns of displacement must
acknowledge the threat to dignity and security – a matter of central concern for
On the role played by religion in migrants’ lives, see S. Snyder, Asylum-Seeking, Migration and
Church (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012); J. Hagan, Migration Miracle (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 2008); G. T. Bonifacio and V.S.M. Angeles, (eds.), Gender, Religion and Migration:
Pathways of Integration (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2009) and P. Levitt, ‘Religion as a Path to
Civic Engagement’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 31.4, (2008), 766-91.
the Church. Later Vatican documents on migration develop this theological
reflection further:
CST documents appeal to the Old Testament themes of Exodus and
Covenant, reminding the Church that Christians continue to live out of the
exilic memory, spiritual strangers in a foreign land.
The prophetic tradition is drawn upon to offer a vision of hospitality and
care for the stranger and the oppressed, and we are reminded that God
chooses the displaced and the stranger (the one who looks foreign – Ruth)
to be difficult and mysterious messengers of a truth we often do not wish
to hear – because it reveals our own departure as ‘settled’ people from
faithfulness. (a theme Pope Francis has given his own ‘spin’ to).
In contrast to a culture that presents the migrant as only either suffering
victim or threat to peace, order, values and prosperity the theological
tradition presents a more complex view of the agency and dignity of the
migrant. This is a subtle theme in CST and much more could probably be
made of it to counter suffering victim or dangerous alien themes.
The doctrinal focus of Catholic teaching on migration falls upon the Incarnation.
Powerful theological meaning is drawn from the Incarnation and the earthly
ministry of Christ as itself dominated by the exilic journey and a ministry to the
stranger.2 Christ’s ministry draws together into a new community, a Church
rather than a nation, the peoples of the earth and blessed by the Spirit at
Pentecost, we become a vast and varied inter-cultural body in the world, for the
world. What is also interesting is that church documents also note the
significance of the line in Revelation in which we are told that people from every
nation, every tribe, every people will be presented before the throne of the Lamb.
Hence partly why it matters that cultures are preserved in the face of
obliterating military and economic interests, (it matters to us that both the
Yazidis and the Christians are slaughtered – not just that Christians are
See discussion of the biblical context and figure of Christ as refugee in Erga
Migrantes Caritas Christi, (Vatican City: Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of
Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, 2004).
slaughtered). Catholics believe in universal kinship and the value of distinct
cultures and peoples. CST cuts across the communitarian - cosmopolitan politics
that tends to split current secular societies.
Church documents also suggest that the Church’s own historical self
understanding has been formed in part through its own experience of migration.
The migrations of early Christianity and displacements of the patristic period can
be felt in the adoption of the language of strangerhood, exile and pilgrimage,
most famously evident in the Letter to Diognetus and I Peter, in which the
Christians adopt for themselves the language of strangerhood, being resident
alien – paroikoi.
John Paul II’s Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi presents the refugee as icon of the
Church’s own nature and reminder of the material reality of the human
condition. The person of the forced migrant – flawed, sinful, broken as the rest of
us - is to be recognised starkly by the Church as an ethical epiphany of the
human condition.3
This biblical and doctrinal reflection on exile and movement provides the
foundations for a set of social principles that reflect on the theme of
responsibility, aiming to guide political and public reflection on the duty to the
refugee. Over the course of the last half century CST has come to propose an
interconnected set of formal principles for the handling of migration concerns in
law and politics.
Catholic social teaching begins by proposing a ‘right to stay” – that is to say, the
right not to be displaced.4 This principle can be situated within a wider Catholic
anthropology. We all need membership of a stable covenantal community to
survive and it is the duty of those who govern to provide the conditions for this
For a theological analysis of this see Orobator, ‘Justice for the Displaced’ in
Driven From Home, D. Hollenbach ed., (Washington: Georgetown Press, 2010).
4 See Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi (The Love of Christ Towards Migrants),
(Vatican City: Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant
Peoples, 2004)
stability. IN CST this right to remain is not a possessive Enlightenment ‘right’, but
rather is based on a biblical and Thomist emphasis on the social, political,
economic and cultural protection due to the person who belongs to a covenantal
community. This principle has clear implications for conflict-resolution and
development policies addressed to the root contexts of displacement.
However, governments fail in this task. And so the second principle states: where
there is conflict, persecution, violence or hunger there exist natural and absolute
rights of the individual to migrate and a natural right to seek sanctuary within an
alternative ‘safe’ political community.5
This implies a third principle: a moral requirement placed upon existing political
communities, especially the most materially privileged, to receive the refugee.
Catholic Social Teaching recognises that the wellbeing of the person is tied to
both the good of the bounded community and a prior recognition of a meaningful
global citizenship through membership of the universal human family: we have a
pre-political membership of a universal human family, but seek stable and
boundaried political communities to thrive. The task of government is to form
judgements about state membership based on a balance of these truths - offering
sanctuary in recognition of its commitment to the universal common good and
finding mediating ways to ensure maintenance of the local common good within
the life of the nation. This implies a duty to think through the management of
migrant flows, issues of integration and distribution of goods.
For these same reasons CST offers a fourth principle: the (imperfect) right of a
sovereign political community to regulate borders and control migration. CST
has not thus far proposed a Christian political cosmopolitanism based on
completely open borders. But neither are borders recognised as divinely
ordained, as claimed in some forms of Reformed and Protestant Christian ethics.
Rather, in CST borders are conceived as a relative good and recognised as
legitimate only insofar as they both protect the common good of the established
See Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes (The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the
Modern World), 1965, n.65.
community and are porous and humane. Political communities are invited to
include within the exercise of sovereignty the establishment and oversight of just
measures for those who arrive seeking sanctuary and for effective global
governance, to minimise and accommodate migration flows. Sovereignty and
hospitality emerge as mutually implicating ideas in CST. Legitimate sovereignty
is exercised always with reference to three prior principles: the universal
destination of all goods, recognition of prior and inalienable moral unity of
humankind, and the requirement to regulate borders according to basic
conditions of social justice.6
Finally, recognition of both the social and political nature of the person implies a
need for migrant integration and therefore a shared responsibility (migrant, civil
society and the state) to enable the meaningful full social, economic, civic,
political participation of the migrant in the host community.7 To fail to do so
offends against the requirements of contributive and social justice. The model for
sociality is one of participation, communication and mutual enrichment within a
shared social space. The end goal of the common good is communion in
difference, not necessarily consensus – although agreement about some things is
pretty basic to a functioning society of course! It is important to stress that this
vision takes as its form the Church at Pentecost, and the vision of the common
good as the journey towards beatitude.
Pope Francis and migration
Pope Francis’ own contribution to addressing the question of migration has been
rather different in style and tone to his recent predecessors. Firstly, Francis’
unique style has involved physical journeys to the heart of the geo-political sites
that most represent our struggle with migration questions – to the shorelines
See Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate, (Encyclical On Human Development in
Charity and Truth), Vatican City (2009), n.62.
7 See John Paul II, Message for the Day of Migrants and Refugees, (Vatican City,
2001), n.3. See also, on the question of just legislation to enable integration and
participation in host communities, John Paul II, Laborem Exercens (Encyclical On
Human Work), (Vatican City: 1981), n.23.
where migrants arrive, and to in-country holding facilities. His most well known
address on migration was made during a homily on the island of Lampedusa.
Having received reports of a spate of drowning at sea, he described his journey
as a ‘gesture of closeness’. Solidarity for Francis involves a gesture of proximity
in order to engage in a reciprocal exchange with migrants.8
In his Lampedusa homily Francis deployed the phrase ‘the globalisation of
indifference’. Francis begins with a reflection on the first two questions which
God asks humanity in the Scripture: Adam, where are you? Cain where is your
brother?9 Francis interprets these passages as stories of human disorientation, of
the first signs of a tendency in humankind to lose our place within creation, to
lose our orientation as creatures towards a creator. Thus to Fall is to be
disorientated, to lose our bearings.
It is interesting that Francis juxtaposes an account of the disorientation of the
settled in relation to the orientation of the displaced. In order to identify what
might be going wrong in a failure to respond adequately to the challenge of the
displaced, we must first see our own disorientation. Francis roots this
disorientation not only in a classic account of the Fall, but also in the particular
conditions of late modernity: here he draws attention to the culture of wellbeing.
The culture of wellbeing breeds indifference towards others. Part of the culture
of wellbeing is to become accustomed to the suffering of others. Our own
transient cultural ways breeds indifference towards truly transient people. Thus
globalization, which creates ironically the transience of the settled, produces too
as its by-product, the globalisation of indifference. In turn the by-product of the
culture of indifference is that we ourselves become anonymous – we seem
unable to understand ourselves as named, particular and responsible in relation
Text of Pope Francis’ homily: (last accessed 22.4.15.)
9 The narrative of Cain and Abel is a trope to which Francis has returned on
numerous occasions, most recently in his treatment of integral ecology in
Laudato Si’.
to named, particular and responsible others. ‘The globalization of indifference
makes us all ‘unnamed’, leaders without names and without faces.’10
This is the opposite of the Creator-creature relationship, through which we are
named, and as named beings we are called to account for other named beings.
Adam, where are you? Cain, where is your brother? This approach to the ethics
of migration deals less with the external borders of the nation state and more
with the prior internalised borders of the human will as the ‘matter’ of a
theological ethics. These two sets of borders – one geopolitical and one interior
to the human self – are read against each other. Francis does not wish to
construct a false dualism, but rather seems keen that we understand the deep,
practical interconnections between the two.
In Laudato si’, Francis connects the failure of law to a deep failure in civil society.
Indifference to migrant suffering in Europe suggests not just the failure of
government or the individual but – of central concern to CST – ‘the loss of that
sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil
society is founded.’11 Civil society is the context in which compassion must be
generated and kept alive: a failure of compassion in the case of migrant welcome
indicates for Francis a failure of civil society to be itself as much as failures in
state political leadership. Laudato si’ also opens up the possibility of an analysis
of migration and displacement which is deeply attentive to environmental
realities, and which utilises the notion of environmental debt as part of a moral
theological framework. However, this work remains to be more fully developed.
The notion that the social teaching of the Church should lead us back towards a
willingness to suffer as a form of solidarity is an emerging hallmark of Francis’
pontificate. Francis’ contrast between a ‘well-being’ culture that seeks to protect
the person from the suffering of others and a Christian social ethics, which seeks
ways to take the suffering of others into the life of the self, is sharp and
deliberate. In Laudato Si’ Francis goes as far as to suggest this defines the very
See link to Lampedusa sermon above.
Laudato Si’, paragraph 25.
task of Catholic social teaching itself: ‘Our goal is not to amass information or to
satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is
happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover
what each of us can do about it.’ Francis claims this theodic practice as the first
inter-subjective move of a countercultural, Christocentric church.
In choosing to make repeated pastoral visits to centres of detention and to
Lampedusa Francis has shifted attention to the liminal spaces where dignity is
most challenged in the migration process: the spaces where access to legal rights
are most restricted and claims to personhood before law most contested.
Despite the willingness of a small number of European countries to receive
significant numbers of new arrivals, the moral thrust of UK and EU policy and
political rhetoric remains towards enforcement, exclusion and expulsion; with
the language framed strongly by security concerns. We talk welcome and conflict
resolution at an official level, but in practice we fail to sustain the political will
necessary to achieve peace and we marshal our resources towards ensuring the
non-arrival of the displaced. Throughout Europe the task of humanitarian
response has fallen to local ‘host’ populations, NGO’s and faith-based
organisations. In response to this situation and their on the ground experience
Catholic FBO’s have made the following positive calls, in line with CST:
 Peace building and conflict resolution
 Policy geared towards long-term stability in Middle East & Africa
 Commitment to speedy re-settlement of refugees & burden sharing
 Access to safe/ legal routes: sponsorship & humanitarian visas
 No detention for administrative purposes
 Critique of austerity as framing political narrative for public discussion
 Reform of Dublin – ease family reunification
 Meaningful social rights: work, social participation
 Enforce non-refoulement principle
In my final comments I want to suggest a number of areas where there are
tensions for us in the UK with regards the CST we have outlined and the
direction of travel in public policy and public opinion. The story we are currently
telling ourselves about the nature of migration and the role of the nation state is
changing, and it is changing in ways that I think are problematic for Christians.
1) Our response to the increasing number of persons on the move towards
Europe has been to adopt an increasingly hostile stance towards arriving
migrants. In the UK especially, but not alone, we are moving towards an
enforcement and deterrence model of engagement with refugees and
migrants. The creation of hostile environments – making it difficult to
arrive in the UK (to get territorial access), ensuring that living conditions
are uncomfortable, moving people on so that settling and integration
become difficult, the use of detention facilities to ensure separation of
migrant and settled populations, the increased use of forced removals and
deportations, minimizing access to the law – is now national policy.
This reality presents a real challenge to churches – to find ways to enact
welcome, to practice accompaniment and the works of mercy, but also to
challenge the structures that make such a reality possible.
2. The stories that refugees and migrants tell us about their experience as
well as any glance at recent legislation tell us that we are involved in the
conscious manufacture of human isolation. This is happening at every
level of the process – en route from country of origin, in seeking safe
passage, in the way that asylum processes are administrated, in the
narrowing of regular migration routes and the feeding of the role of the
mafia as a consequence, in the way we accommodate and provide welfare
to arriving refugees and migrants. To manufacture the conditions of
isolation is to actively create poverty. There can be no Christian definition
of human government that sees this as a human good.
3. which brings me to my third concern: the absence of any substantive
structuring notion of the common good in our public discourse about
migration. The CST tradition helps us to frame the following question: can
we agree on what we are ‘for’ – on a substantive account of the moral
good we aim for in the case of managing migration? The church’s
tradition – St Augustine in particular – teaches us that if we cannot talk
about the good as the focus for our lives then into that void creeps forms
of evil, negative cycles of reactive policy and public opinion.
What kinds of competing moral narratives of the good do we hear in our
contexts and what sense can we make of them in the light of Scripture and
Do we discern narratives of the good in the conversations about
immigration we are part of or privy to?
How might the Church embody a vision of the good in our contexts?
Where, in a practical and local sense, can the Church be agents of common
good practices and conversations: embodying presence, enabling
estranged groups to talk about the good they hope for in communities and
their duty towards neighbours?
Finally, I think the church also has to find ways to deal with the presence of race
and the fear of Islam as features of the current public debate. A fear of Islam and
a lack of knowledge as to how to do dialogue with Islam is a concern I meet often
in talking about migration with groups from local congregations, public meetings
to groups of bishops. This fear needs to be addressed constructively. I also don’t
think that we can ignore the racial dimensions to the current scene. Those
refused entry, those subject to detention and forced removal, those denied
status, those most dependent on irregular migration routes to achieve safety or
economic survival are disproportionately likely to have darker skin. The reaction
to the pictures of young men, late teens, with dark skin arriving from Calais last
week is a case in point.
I have just returned from spending a week with Catholic and Anglican bishops
from across the globe. Amongst our number was the Bishop of Beirut. He fears
that Lebanon is being overwhelmed by its experience of seeking to offer
hospitality to very large numbers of migrants. One in five of Lebanon’s
population is a Syrian refugee. He wonders where the rest of the world is, and, as
a Catholic, he counsels a properly historical engagement of Christian
communities in the politics and economics that drive global conflicts. He is
interested in the solidarity of those willing to address the sale of arms and the
deep vested economic interests he perceives the West has in the Middle East.
When I asked him what he would want others in our context to hear he says that
he feels strongly that our duty does not lie in welcome and hospitality alone, but
in being willing to address and bind the wounds of our societies at every level.