Pope Francis delivered a message Friday to an international Catholic theological conference in which he congratulated organizers for keeping attention fixed on the environment and immigration, two issues the pope has held at the centre of his pontificate.
For the opening of the third international conference of Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church, which bears the title “A Critical Time for Bridge-Building: Catholic Theological Ethics Today,” the pontiff sent a message stressing the need for a coordinated, global approach to the divisive problems facing mankind.
“Without renouncing prudence, we are called to recognize every sign and mobilize all our energy in order to remove the walls of division and to build bridges of fraternity everywhere in the world,” Francis said, while lamenting that his global vision is “at times resisted by fear and forms of regression.”
The accompanying letter to the conference program lays out the progressive vision of its organizers, who include Father James Keenan, director of the Jesuit Institute at Boston College:
Today we enter our second generation facing greater and more urgent times than we did in 2002: our environment is compromised; immigrants, refugees, and the poor are threatened; and, very few national leaders show any regard for greater global cooperation. These times call us to deepen our network and to build greater bridges.
The pope lauded the conference for granting “a central place to the ecological challenge,” that besets the world, adding that it “can create grave imbalances not only in terms of the relationship between man and nature, but also between generations and peoples.”
The ecological challenge is not a peripheral concern, the pope stressed, and is not “simply one of many” issues, but forms “the broader backdrop for an understanding of both ecological ethics and social ethics.”
Francis also underscored the importance given to “the issue of migrants and refugees,” which he called “very serious” while expressing his hope for “a metanoia that can foster ethical and theological reflection.” In this wish, the pope reiterated his frequent calls for people to undergo a “change in mindset” regarding immigration.
Each one of us “is called to be close to the refugees, to find moments of encounter with them, to appreciate their contribution, so that they can better fit into the communities that receive them,” he said last month. “The solution to many problems can be found in this encounter and in this mutual respect and support.”
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The pope has been hammering home his pro-immigration message in an effort to bring about a sea change in discussions surrounding migration.
In June, Francis explicitly appealed for a “change in mindset” regarding immigration, insisting in a message that migrants are not a threat to society but, rather, a source of enrichment.
The pontiff has sought to counter a negative narrative on mass migration, especially in countries that have been on the receiving end of immigration flows, calling for a shift in priorities and mentality.
“This demands a change in mindset,” he said. “We must move from considering others as threats to our comfort to valuing them as persons whose life experience and values can contribute greatly to the enrichment of our society.”
“For this to happen, our basic approach must be to encounter the other, to welcome, to know and to acknowledge him or her,” he said.
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The Vatican is carrying out a two-year campaign aimed at changing people’s minds about migrants, which it inaugurated last September.
“Brothers, we mustn’t be afraid to share the journey! We mustn’t be afraid to share the hope!” Francis said in his announcement of the project called “Share the Journey.”
The stated goal of the campaign is to shed light on migration in order to provoke a “shift in thinking” on the issue.
According to Caritas, which is coordinating the campaign, the project was created in response to Pope Francis’s frequent summons for a “culture of encounter.”
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