“We have hope. We can move beyond borders … and walls in our hearts and minds”

“Have no fear! Christ is Alive! We have hope. We can move beyond borders, physical barriers and walls in our hearts and minds.”

That’s the sentiment that runs through a statement unanimously adopted by the members of the Churches’ Commission on Migrants in Europe (CCME) which met in Prague last week for its general assembly.

“We see hope in the contribution of refugees, migrants and minority ethnic groups to European societies. European societies have a history of immigration and emigration themselves and are constantly evolving. Newcomers are helping to expand cultural horizons, and are vital to work which breaks down fears between people from different backgrounds, religions and nationalities.

“We celebrate that newly arrived people are playing their part in our common life. We rejoice in the opportunities that new encounters provide to help transform attitudes and opinions, which help everyone to have a deeper perspective on life. We see hope in the future for longstanding solidarity between the Churches of Europe to work together.”

A conference attracting 70 participants from across Europe addressed “the role of churches for the integration of migrants” on the first day of the general assembly. CCME’s statement also points to “expressions of hope in those multiple prayers and actions of European citizens that have supported the common good”.

“They are working to share Christian principles of solidarity, peace, generosity and the imperative to welcome the stranger. We have seen hope in the contribution of hundreds of thousands of people across Europe. Many people are giving their time to offer a welcome in Europe to newly arrived people who have been forced to flee their homes.”

CCME welcomed new church denominations into membership at their general assembly, including The Church of Scotland, United Reformed Church and Cytûn – Churches Together in Wales.

“The Churches of Europe belong together. We are hopeful that the attitudes of European societies may be positively transformed by their experience of intercultural dialogue with refugees and migrants. For Churches this includes theological reflection.

“Hearing the voices and respecting the opinions of newcomers in decisions and programmes which affect them is critical, and so we commend the principle that: ‘Nothing about us without us is for us’

The CCME statement encourages both citizens and church members to support a process of integration that is “a dynamic two-way process of mutual accommodation where all parties give and receive” and is respectful of different cultural identities and shifts the way of thinking of majority communities.

There was a call to action and to challenge those in positions of authority who act – or don’t act – out of fear.

“We encourage all those who have acted, volunteered or donated to continue with their efforts and support the growth of a movement which seeks to make societies welcoming and safe for those forced to leave their homes. We hope that their actions will be a challenge to those in positions of authority. We urge all Governments and political actors not to be afraid of making challenging and courageous decisions in the face of xenophobia.

“We say to them: have no fear, do not play with fear, do not betray core European values but have hope that policies which prioritise human dignity and the common good have the support of Churches, church members and many fellow citizens.”

Finally the statement drew attention to three areas:

  • the opening of safe passage for those in greatest need, in order to prevent the continuing catastrophic loss of human life as people desperately try to seek sanctuary in Europe;
  • the protection and expansion of swift family reunification; as Churches we affirm that family life is a fundamental human right2and is essential for the integration of a newcomer;
  • the situation of persons living in Europe not granted a permit who cannot return to their country of origin – they deserve to have their fundamental rights respected and guaranteed at all times.

“So we say: Have no fear! Christ is Alive! We have hope. We can move beyond borders, physical barriers and walls in our hearts and minds.”

The general assembly also received a progress update about the joint CCME-WACC Refugees Reporting project looking at the media portrayal of refugees from Francesca Pierigh. David Bradwell from Church of Scotland coordinates the Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees and was elected onto the CCME Executive.

You can read the full statement on the CCME website.