09/19/2018, 11.16
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Churches, societies and religions facing xenophobia, racism and nationalism

An international conference is under way on the theme, organized by the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development and the World Council of Churches (WCC), in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. It is focused on the "fears" that migrants arouse, but also on the work of Churches, religions, civil society and politics. A representative from Libya considers the European Union operation "Sofia" "criminal", which pushes (and drowns) migrants back into Libyan territorial waters. According to some participants the approach "Eurocentric".

Rome (AsiaNews) – An  International Conference on "Xenophobia, racism and populist nationalism in the context of global migration" is in its second day today in Rome at the Ergife Hotel. The event is organized by the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development and the World Council of Churches (WCC), in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. There are 200 invited guests, including political figures, figures from civil society and from the Churches operating in the world of migrants, as well as various media.

The opening address yesterday was entrusted to Card. Peter Appiah Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development. He gave a general outline of the themes participants would address: first of all monitor the way in which "the host societies interface with the new arrivals, their views  their vision of the foreigner". Then highlight the presence or absence in our societies of attitudes of racism that justify "indifference, marginalization, hatred, exclusion or deviation of a human being". Finally, "reflect on the role that the churches are called to play" in the context of migration.

Citing Benedict XVI, in his social encyclical Caritas in veritate, Card. Turkson noted that "an increasingly globalized society brings us close, but does not make us brothers and sisters", and that "mistrust and fear prevail over trust and openness to others".

The theme of "fear" was addressed by many. The CC secretary, Olaf Fykse Tveit also highlighted the way politicians use this fear to divide society and "pitt us against one another". Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, of the German Evangelical Church, pointed out that there is a "criminal" fear of migrants, afraid that they will cause crimes; a "social" fear, which sees them as economic competitors; and a "cultural" fear, fearful of seeing one's culture suffocated by the presence of other cultures and religions. In this regard, he noted that often in Germany, there are defenders of "Christian civilization" who do not go to church, nor attend any community, but strongly oppose the presence of Muslims in Europe. At least 30% of German Christians ("including members of the clergy") are xenophobic.

Confirming the resistance of the migration policy, Felipe Camargo, of the UN refugee organization (UNHCR) for Southern Europe, cited the fact that the European Parliament wants to discuss the criteria for welcoming refugees to make them even more restrictive. .

During the moments of discussion, criticisms emerged regarding the way the Conference has been programmed. For some members the expressed vision is too "Eurocentric" and linked only to the issues of migrants in the Mediterranean. A representative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem recalled the problem of Palestinian refugees; Ziad El Sayegh, a Lebanese, from the Council of Churches in the Middle East, recalled the presence of the million and more Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. Some members of Africa have pointed out that millions of Africans - in Congo, South Sudan, etc ... - do not come to Europe, but find hospitality in neighboring African countries. Prof. Kofi Awusabo-Asare, a professor of population studies in Accra (Ghana), stressed that racism is not only present in Europe, but also in Africa, even if there is greater racial homogeneity there. "Racism - he tells AsiaNews - exists even among tribes and clans".

The strongest criticism - against international politics, rather than to the meeting - came from Libyan Prof. Aref Nayed, who defined the European Union operation "Sofia" which pushes (and drowns) migrants back into Libyan territorial waters as "criminal". He accused the Libyan police and the Coast Guard of sinking the inflatable rubber dinghies of migrants.

According to Nayed, in Islam there are principles that safeguard hospitality towards the foreigner. The "merchants of death" who traffic migrants in Libya do not only commit acts of violence against them, but "against Islam," he said.

Representatives of other religions - a Hindu, a Christian, a Buddhist - have shown how religions per se encourage acceptance, but are often used for nationalist and racist ends. The Japanese Buddhist representative, Katsutoshi Mizumo, of Rissho Kosei-kai, told of the presence of some Buddhist members among the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. In Myanmar the Rohingya are persecuted by the army and by Buddhist extremist.

Yesterday afternoon participants heard from the director of AsiaNews and the AsiaNews correspondent from Yangon, which will be published in their full form on our site. Tomorrow the participants will be received by Pope Francis.

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