ROME — Archbishop Joan-Enric Vives of Urgell, Catalonia, said in a letter Sunday that European nations have the “inescapable duty” to welcome migrants and refugees who are trying to find a better life for themselves.
Not only does Europe have an ethical obligation to receive migrants, stated Archbishop Vives, but it needs them as well because of its waning birthrate “as Europe ages rapidly and dangerously.”
“This summer we have followed with great concern the fate of several ships overloaded with people seeking refuge, whom they had picked up in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea — as required by sea treaties — and who sought refuge in neighboring European countries, in the Europe that claims to be the cradle of human rights,” the archbishop wrote.
Without naming names, Vives also criticizes the politics of former Italian minister Matteo Salvini, who sought to curb the nation’s problem of illegal immigration by closing Italy’s seaports.
The lack of response to the migrant situation in the Mediterranean “constitutes a flagrant breach of international agreements and a very serious responsibility by omission, in the face of the deaths that may occur in the present and in the future,” the archbishop said, citing a document titled Migrants with Rights issued by several Catholic organizations in Spain.
In point of fact, however, migrant sea deaths declined significantly during Mr. Salvini’s mandate, since far fewer migrants undertook the perilous voyage across the Strait of Sicily and human traffickers felt less inclined to accept the risk involved with shuttling people to a nation where they might not be received.
The statistically proven efficiency of Mr. Salvini’s policies in saving migrant lives led many to question the honesty of those who opposed his programs while saying they did so in order to protect migrants.
In his letter Sunday, Archbishop Vives said that “many associations and many European citizens wanted and want to welcome these refugees with open arms, because they are people fleeing situations of injustice and looking for a better future,” adding that “we cannot close ourselves up in selfishness.”
“Vindicating the right of asylum, fostering reception and generating attitudes of solidarity toward refugees escaping violence is an unavoidable duty on the part of European countries,” the archbishop said.
Since the European Union and its member countries have “an ethical duty” to receive migrants, they must arbitrate “effective and respectful responses to human rights in these situations,” he said.
While Archbishop Vives and a number of other European prelates have encouraged more migration into Europe, their brother bishops in Africa, which is currently the source of most of Europe’s migrants, have begged Europeans to stop pushing mass migration.
Last summer, Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze urged Europeans to stop encouraging Africans to migrate to Europe, insisting that people are better off in their home countries.
When countries lose their young people to migration, they lose the people who can best build their nation’s future, the cardinal told the Catholic Herald.
“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.
Last May, another 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.”
These words echoed those of Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, the head of the Vatican’s liturgical office, who said last April that the Church should not be encouraging migration to Europe.
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 employed forceful language to decry the Church’s push for migration into Europe, 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 rhetorically, 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.