ROME — Cardinal Francis Arinze has urged Europeans to cease encouraging Africans to migrate to Europe, insisting that people are better off in their home countries.
In an interview with the Catholic Herald last week, the 86-year-old Cardinal Arinze, once considered a top candidate for the papacy, said that when countries lose their young people to migration, they lose the people who can best build their nation’s future.
“So the countries in Europe and America can sometimes help best, not by encouraging the young people to come to Europe as if they looked on Europe as heaven – a place where money grows on trees – but to help the countries from which they come,” he said.
“It is best for a person to stay in that person’s own land – country, town, area – and work there,” he said, while acknowledging that at times that is not possible. He also said that government leaders of countries with high rates of emigration should examine their consciences to determine why it is that so many people are leaving.
And “in general, we cannot deny a human person the right to look for another area where you will have more peace, or even more study, culture or economic opportunity,” he said.
The cardinal speaks from personal experience, having been appointed Archbishop of Onitsha in 1967, a week before the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war. At that time, he was effectively a refugee, the Catholic Herald notes, “fleeing from one area to another as the theatre of war changed, while organising aid for the many displaced people.”
Arinze also looked at the problem of mass migration from the perspective of the receiving nations, insisting that they must be prudent enough to only accept the immigrants that they can effectively integrate.
“Each government has to see, for how many people can they provide,” the cardinal said. “Not only their entrance: lodging, work, family, cultural insertion.”
“It is not theory. It is fact,” Arinze said. “Where is their future: work, family life, culture, religion? Think of all that.”
“So it’s all these considerations we must make, when we mention the word ‘migrant,’” he said.
In his statements on mass migration, Cardinal Arinze joined a growing chorus of African prelates who oppose Europe’s encouragement of migrant flows from Africa to Europe.
In May of this year, Nigerian Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the archbishop of Abuja, said that mass migration out of his country is a sure sign that political leadership has failed.
“Authorities should make Nigeria home. Same should be applicable to other African countries,” he said.
Having visited Italy and seen the number of Nigerian prostitutes on the streets of Rome and other cities as a result of mass migration, the cardinal said he was ashamed.
“To tell you bluntly I’m ashamed, I’m ashamed,” he told the BBC. “I’m moving through the streets of Rome, Milan, Naples and I see my daughters on the street on sale.”
“I’m ashamed and I stop and even greet some of them — you can’t even engage them in conversation because they were brought out of the village illiterates. All they learn and all they know on the streets of Italy is what they need for this business — I’m ashamed.”
The words on immigration of both Nigerian cardinals echoed those of Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, the head of the Vatican’s liturgical department, who said in April that the Church should not be encouraging migration.
It is wrong to “use the word of God to promote migration,” he said, because using the Bible to encourage migration is a “false interpretation.” It is better “to help people flourish in their culture than to encourage them to come to Europe,” he said.
Cardinal Sarah denounced the Church’s push for migration into Europe in powerful language, insisting that most immigrants wind up in Europe “without work or dignity” and assume the condition of slaves.
“Is that what the Church wants?” he asked, adding that the Church should not support “this new form of slavery that is mass migration.”
Several days later, the cardinal went still further, saying that a Church of migration and ecology is “of interest to no one” and that it risks becoming just another NGO if it focuses on these “horizontal” issues rather than preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.