The ecumenical challenge of migration

Bartłomiej Bozek is a member of the Chemin Neuf Community and travelled to Italy to visit Mediterranean Hope projects in April with the delegation of young men organised by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.

We can describe ecumenism as a desire to be together all over again felt by different Christian denominations. It’s a sort of heart fulfilling conviction that if one has decided to give up one’s life to Christ, one’s life became passionately dedicated to look for missing unity of Christ’s followers. Christ is one though, as Paul has said. He used to remind his contemporaries that there are no ‘Paul’s Christians’ or ‘Apollos’ Christians’ but only saved children of God. Which corresponds to Jesus’ will. When his time came, he prayed so ‘they might be one’.

I think it was brave of CTBI to organise a trip that would take away people from different Christian traditions that didn’t know each other beforehand.

This struck me one day while we were being driven across Lampedusa in an old Fiat on our way to lunch. We were united by our empty stomachs! In that car, in that moment, there was no difference between us. An Anglican, a Catholic, a Quaker, a Methodist. As participants we could consent in most human matters.

Over our week in Italy, step by step we got to know each other, forming a small community. There were many fraternal moments sharing our experiences, telling some of the stories of our life. There was joy

We prayed together on the last day of our stay on Lampedusa. We stood by the ‘Door of Europe’ monument, built with simple materials to signify and remember that this place is strongly marked by migrants coming with little to seek a better world.

We stood in a circle just by the shore. We were emerged in what we’d seen over three days on Lampedusa. Our host Marta Bernardini from Mediterranean Hope’s Observatory opened with a few words.

And there for a time we expressed our spontaneous prayer for migrants, their families, their crossing sea journeys.

Mediterranean Hope mixes non-believers, agnostics, people from several Protestant denominations and work too with Catholics. Such beautiful human beings to meet. They were united in work for a bigger good. Unanimous in their job becoming art. The differences were no more important. We have tasted its fruit.

Quite often I felt like I was speaking with someone that I had known for a long time. We were embraced by the atmosphere created by our guides. There was a spirit of welcome and acceptance flowing in the air.

Even though Italy is known for its majority Catholicism – in particular the south of the country where the number of Catholics exceeds ninety per cent – it was the Methodist and Waldesian church that first organised help and support for the refugees. The smallest one appeared as the most generous once again.

When we asked the director of the Casa delle Culture project in Scicly why they decided to do it, she answered with disturbing simplicity that they couldn’t do anything else.

That was the moment when I started to loose the ground of my safe and settled – as the events showed later on – about the refugee crisis under my feet.

It touched my very European theoretical point of view that says there are several ways of solving the refugee issue.

Maybe.

Practice shows one truly human response.

Welcome.

It doesn’t come out of nowhere. It needs to be practiced in order to become reliable. Daily basis reveals what shall be done, like a baptism of fire. That’s the environment where something can be built.

Just like us in Italy for a week. We were together all the time, having a more or less ecumenical experience while tackling and sharing the daily challenges of life. We were united in the spirit, starting with ordinary things, staying who we are, with every miscellaneous thing penetrating the firmament of this symbiosis. We’ve experienced a sort of ‘school of ecumenism’. The first class was about welcoming each other the way he was. Very useful.

On Lampedusa, a single Catholic church in the town centre is the only obvious church building on the island.

The previous parish priest received Pope Francis some time ago. His successor Dom Carmelo La Magra was due to travel to Rome in order to put more light on what’s happening on the first island of Europe.

Therefore, while I was listening to Dom Carmelo’s testimony, my thoughts were spinning around the notion that there is a link – at least here, on old continent – between what is going on somewhere in the south and in north, west and east. That’s only a geographical distinction. We have the same cultural roots, the same way of thinking, the same projections of the future (similar, for sure) and we do the same things in our free time … A lot more could be added.

I wanted to point out that there is a shared common sense of life across the Europe. We feel connected, in a way. That’s why it is important that the current priest of Lampedusa visits the Pope . That’s why our trip to Sicily and Lampedusa was, and is, really valuable.

We went there to wake up the consciousness after coming back. To use what we’ve seen and heard to make an impact on those with whom we are connected, so that they will open their minds to the tragedy taking place in our neighbourhood.

We were in front of one of the first ecumenical challenges ever born. All of us were Christians, yet entirely aware of differences among us. I’m thinking, in particular, about the first missionaries arriving in countries where natives had never heard about Jesus Christ. There were groups of people from far away trying to announce one of the things making us feel together, which at the time was Christianity, obviously divided. Facing a contradiction ever present since 11th century. Today in Africa you can find the members of Anglican Communion, Catholics, Orthodox etc.

Do we want to announce a division? Or a resurrected creator of everything?

Maybe the refugees crisis is another occasion to examine our points of view.

It is impossible to stay indifferent before such huge suffering. Christianity has a lot to say in that matter. We are not credible if divided. Would anyone like to listen to a constant argument. Is there anything sure and certain regarding ecumenism? But we need to take a stand. Take a risk. Make a commitment.

Already as humans we are created to give ourselves to the others. To make a gift of our lives. To exist for someone and to not be afraid but instead to consecrate our most precious inner gold mines on the altar of mutual love.

Alberto Mallardo from the Observatory on Lampedusa relayed a story. We were in the island’s cemetery where the bodies of migrants who die on the boat journey to Lampedusa are laid to rest.

Migrants have been coming to Italy and Lampedusa for a long time. Long before the current crisis exploded, the grave digger working in the local necropolis noticed that migrants dying on the shores were never really buried. So on his own initiative he decided to do something.

He placed a large group in one big grave setting only crosses above. He was a Christian. Later, someone pointed out that the majority of the dead were Muslim, and queried whether crosses were appropriate. He answered that he didn’t know. But everyone else in the cemetery was dignified with a cross. So out of respect he made sure these anonymous bodies were treated the same. He couldn’t have known. Death made them equal.

That story opens eyes on another intersecting path of truth. Interfaith and interreligious dialogue face human misery on both sides: a big lack of awareness of what life in Europe really awaits migrants, and the same lack of understanding on the European side about what the migrants go through in their part of the world. Two sides of the same coin.

That’s the most flagrant thing that we have in common, easily seen there. A point to start to look for some more universal solutions. Because it is necessary to help those reaching Europe. At the same time, it is not enough. We need something more. We all are humans but we are not predisposed – too often only by our birth place – to have the same basic perspectives and dreams. Yes, dreams. Dreams can tell what kind of people we are. They can show our longings discovering fundamental motivations and directions of our existence.

That’s why in Mediterranean Hope we’ve met on Sicily and Lampedusa an organisation founded by the Methodist church that gathers today other Protestant church members, atheists and agnostics to help Muslims, Christians and others without asking them their denomination or religious affiliation.

There are things that we can do together. If we want to build something enduring, we should not begin with what makes difference between us, but instead we should begin with what we do that is already in common,.

For me, CTBI’s trip to Italy is a good examples to quote. It gives hope.

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