Vatican to Host Conference on ‘Migration, Xenophobia, and Politically Motivated Populism’

Pope Francis delivers his speech to diplomats accredited to the Holy See, during an audience for the traditional exchange of New Year greetings, in the "Regia" hall at the Vatican, on January 8, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Andrew Medichini (Photo credit should read ANDREW MEDICHINI/AFP/Getty Images)
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The World Council of Churches (WCC) has announced a joint venture with the Vatican to co-host a meeting next September on “migration, xenophobia, and politically motivated populism.”

The WCC said it is partnering with the Vatican department for Promoting Integral Human Development in preparing the conference to be held September 17-20 as part of ongoing work toward “peace-building and migration.”

The General of the WCC, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, said the meeting would be a “very useful and significant workshop to dig a bit deeper” into the problems of xenophobia as an expression of populism, as well as its links to racism, conflict, and violence in countries around the world.

Last September, the Vatican launched a two-year campaign to change people’s minds about migrants and to encourage a more welcoming attitude toward them worldwide.

“Brothers, we mustn’t be afraid to share the journey! We mustn’t be afraid to share the hope!” Francis said in his weekly General Audience on September 27, in which he inaugurated the new project, titled “Share the Journey.”

The global Catholic charities network Caritas Internationalis spearheaded the campaign in its aim to promote awareness and action on behalf of migrants and refugees, assisting them in building connections with local communities.

According to Caritas, the project was launched as a response to Pope Francis’s frequent summons for a “culture of encounter.”

Our world “faces not a migration crisis, but a crisis of global solidarity,” Caritas said on its website. “Be part of a worldwide campaign to reach out to migrants, change perceptions, open hearts and minds, and strengthen the bonds that unite us all.”

The stated goal of the project is to shed light on both the challenges and effects of migration at every stage of the journey to provoke a “shift in thinking” on the issue.

Part of this shift in thinking involves dispelling common “myths about migration,” the organization declared, before laying out “some common myths around migration and the facts behind the myths.”

Caritas said these myths include the idea that there are more migrants than ever before, that migrants live off welfare benefits and steal jobs from citizens, that closing borders will stem migrant flows, and that “people from poor countries migrate to rich ones.”

The pope himself has lent his moral weight to the pro-immigration crusade, often speaking about the positive side to migration.

Last Thursday, Francis called 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.

In his message to the second Holy See-Mexico Conference on International Migration in the Vatican, Francis praised the work of the “International Community” aimed at the adoption of two global compacts, one on refugees and the other on “safe, orderly and regular migration.”

The pontiff also sought to counter a negative narrative on mass migration, 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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