PBC Council on Migration: Helping Refugees is an Authentic Testimony of Christian Attitude

15-03-2022
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“We address words of fraternal love to all those seeking refuge in our country. We want to assure them of our full solidarity, kindness, and openness to their needs. In this difficult time, let none of be left alone,” we read the communiqué of the Polish episcopate’s Council for Migration, Tourism, and Pilgrimages regarding assistance to refugees from Ukraine.

“We express immense gratitude to all those who immediately rushed to the aid of war refugees. A multitude of volunteers is engaged not only on the Polish-Ukrainian border but throughout the country and, even at the risk of their lives, in Ukraine. We thank Caritas Poland and all the diocesan Caritas, the parish communities, NGOs, and a whole host of people of good will for their engagement. We are also thankful the generosity that has been manifested. Helping refugees is an authentic testimony of a truly humanitarian and Christian attitude,” they stressed.

The PBC Council for Migration, Tourism, and Pilgrimage reported that in the search for an answer to the question of the shape of the model of integration of migrants in our society at the parish level, useful indications are found in the document Responding to Refugees and Migrants. Twenty Pastoral Action Points  produced in 2018 by Vatican’s Section for Migrants and Refugees of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development. In addition, the Church’s earlier documents produced by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travelers should not be forgotten: Welcoming Christ in refugees and forcibly displaced persons (2013) and the Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi (2004).

The communiqué states that the following principles underlie pastoral care for refugees: human and Christian dignity, love, solidarity, and support, international cooperation, and spiritual assistance. On their basis, pope Francis described the attitude of Christian hospitality toward strangers in the modern world en summed it up in four verbs: welcome, protect, promote, and integrate.

Council members suggested that relief efforts for refugees from Ukraine in Poland should include a Family to Family program analogous to the one organized in recent years by Caritas Poland for thousands of Syrian refugee families in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. “Let one family (or several families) care for a family from Ukraine, first of all in the form of an accompaniment, devoting time, introducting its members to life in our society, to the wealth of our culture, the beauty of our religious life, but also in the form of material help in case of need,” we read in the statement.

“Our fundamental vocation in the present situation is to continue fasting and praying for peace in Ukraine, for an end to the war, for the conversion of the aggressors, for the eternal salvation of the victims, for the suffering and the sick, for the refugees,” says the statement.

Press Office of the Polish Bishops’ Conference

We are publishing the full text of the statement:

 

Statement of the Council of the Polish Bishops’ Conference
for Migration, Tourism, and Pilgrimages Regarding Aid to Refugees From Ukraine

We are all deeply moved by the horrors of the war that has befallen the people of Ukraine and others in this country in recent days as a result of Russian aggression. The destruction and death caused by Russia’s military actions have already forced over 2.7 million people to flee. Since the first day of the war, more than 1.7 million of them have found safe shelter in Poland, in the homes of Polish families, in parishes, monasteries, retreat houses, in places organized by local governments and provided by businesses (hotels, guesthouses, rest homes, etc.), schools (from kindergartens to universities). With deep compassion we are seeking possible and adequate ways to respond to this hard-to-imagine tragedy.

  1. Our fundamental vocation in the present situation is to continue fasting and praying for peace in Ukraine, for an end to the war, for the conversion of the aggressors, for the eternal salvation of the victims, for the suffering and the sick, for the refugees. Holy Father Francis, the Episcopate’s President Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki, and all the diocesan bishops have called us to do this.
  2. We express immense gratitude to all those who immediately rushed to the aid of war refugees. A multitude of volunteers is engaged not only on the Polish-Ukrainian border but throughout the country and, even at the risk of their lives, in Ukraine. We thank Caritas Poland and all the diocesan Caritas, the parish communities, NGOs, and a whole host of people of good will for their engagement. We are also thankful the generosity that has been manifested. Helping refugees is an authentic testimony of a truly humanitarian and Christian attitude. The spontaneous grass-roots actions in recent days are examples of an extraordinary vision of mercy that is enabling us to forego our own comfort and habits and so hasten to remedy the injustice done to our neighbor. No selfless gesture and support shown will be forgotten by God. In the fleeing mothers with their children, in the sick and the elderly, we today see the Holy Family fleeing from death to Egypt.

In the accounts of the people who are welcoming the strangers into their homes, gratuitous hospitality (“philoxenia”) resounds in response to the words of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews: “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:1-2). The possibility of giving shelter to strangers becomes an unexpected, blessed gift, because the giver too becomes a receiver. Indeed, we rediscover our own humanity and human community through solidarity in the face of bestiality born of evil. The openness and cordiality shown these days are the first, essential, and profound humanitarian aid.

  1. We must, however, remember that the humanitarian reception of war refugees is only the first stage of the challenge we are facing, which is expressed in the words of Jesus Christ: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Mt 25:35). In the long term, the newcomer and the community face further tasks related to the process of integration. In this situation, the entry of refugees into society requires them to become independent, and this is inseparably connected with the acceptance of the local culture, the law in force, and the observance of the principles of social security. The current situation calls us to wisely manage the process of social integration. It is necessary to prepare for it and to begin it as soon as possible, not only in view of the integration of refugees into Polish society but also supporting the internal integration of the Ukrainian community in Poland and strengthening its resources, so that its representatives may also, as soon as possible, return to their country and undertake its reconstruction.

In the search for an answer to the question of the shape of the model of integration of migrants in our society at the parish level, we find useful indications in the document Responding to Refugees and Migrants. Twenty Pastoral Action Points  produced in 2018 by Vatican’s Section for Migrants and Refugees of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development. In addition, the Church’s earlier documents produced by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travelers should not be forgotten: Welcoming Christ in refugees and forcibly displaced persons (2013) and the Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi (2004).

Caritas Poland, commissioned by the Polish Bishops’ Conference to extend charitable and pastoral care to refugees, oversees not only immediate but also long-term actions for the Christian reception of refugees. It does this in cooperation with diocesan Caritas, providing both material and technical support.

  1. Several principles underlie the pastoral care for refugees: a) human and Christian dignity, b) love, solidarity, and support, c) international cooperation, d) spiritual assistance. On their basis, pope Francis described the attitude of Christian hospitality toward strangers in the modern world en summed it up in four verbs: welcome, protect, promote, and integrate. Since the beginning of his pontificate, this has become a fundamental theme of his statements and actions on behalf of refugees.

Welcome

In the earliest Christian communities, welcoming and hosting travelers were requisite attitudes and indeed became essential for them. However, given the large scale of arrivals, the most generous actions of individuals, or even organizations, cannot work without if they are not based in systemic solutions. In a joint response to the challenge of the humanitarian crisis, it is necessary for state institutions, local governments, NGOs, and the Church to work together. We appeal to those in power to implement solutions that will enable effective and coordinated assistance to refugees and facilitate their adaptation to new living conditions. The Law on assistance to Ukrainian citizens in connection with the armed conflict on the territory of Ukraine, passed in recent days, is the first, very important step on the road to integration. The facilitations contained in it are pertinent and should be effective at this stage.

The potential of the parish—as a community of believers, but also with the facilities it possess—is helpful in meeting the needs of the reception of refugees. The large number of arrivals is obliging the State institutions to organize collective accommodation. In pastoral work, efforts should be made to seek out and accommodate refugee families in places outside of collective accommodation. The refugee camp method always causes pathologies, lack of access to education and health care, and deepens refugees’ sense of isolation, while marginalizing them in every dimension of life.

Protect

In the face of the bestiality of war, each person is equally entitled to rescue and help. It should be borne in mind that not only refugees of Ukrainian origin are fleeing war-torn Ukraine. We would like to recall once again that it is unacceptable to be guided by race, nationality, religion or any other factors when providing shelter. We also strongly warn against using the tragedy of refugees for political purposes and spreading lies and manipulation aimed at fostering dangerous xenophobic sentiments. In the Church’s teaching and in our meeting with refugees, let us try to make them aware of the danger of falling victim to human trafficking. There is also the temptation of the unacceptable practice of exploiting newcomers and offering them underpayment. Single women, mothers with children, are particularly vulnerable to insidious criminal activities.

Promote

Promoting refugees includes all actions aimed at deeply respecting their dignity and rights. Firstly, this means the organization of Polish language classes, for children and young people as well as for adults. Systemic activities in schools can and should be complemented by the organization of teacher volunteers, also in parishes. We ask catechists to sensitize the pupils during religion lessons to the need for a fraternal opening towards their Ukrainian classmates. The right to education, access to health care, facilitation of formalities in finding work in the immediate area, and the provision of social assistance are just some of the areas in which we need to provide assistance.

Integrate

Integration is always a two-way endeavor; therefore, it will first of all require the refugees’ effort to learn the language and culture of our homeland; but it should also be based on our willingness and efforts to learn the culture of the newcomers. This long-term task begins with accompanying refugees in their first steps in the area where they live, kindly pointing out the places  that are important for the local community (e.g., the location of cinemas, theaters, community centers, sports centers). Our important holidays (both national and religious) are accompanied by certain customs, habits, and celebrations. In this case, it will be very important to invite the newcomers and give them the appropriate explanations. Successful integration into Polish society also means creating opportunities for refugees to meet within their own community so that they can nurture the traditions of their abandoned homeland and share them with the receiving society.

The vast majority of the current refugees are Orthodox Christians. It is advisable that the rush of humanitarian aid and all integrational activities be implemented in cooperation with the clergy and the faithful of the structures of the Orthodox Church in Poland. Behavior that would give rise to the suspicion of proselytism should be avoided. The document “Pro memoria concerning religious services provided to the faithful of Churches and Ecclesial Communities that are not in full communion with the Catholic Church,” pubished on 9 March 2022 by the the Legal Council and the Council for Ecumenism of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, will help in the pastoral contact.

  1. The reception of migrants and refugees is inevitably associated with tensions in the receiving society. They most often arise in relation to access to resources, competition for jobs, a sense of unfair treatment in education, health care, or access to social assistance. There is a real danger that spontaneous hospitality and cordiality of the Poles may, after a longer period of time, turn into resentment towards refugees. This is a challenge for State institutions and local governments. However, extraordinary potential resides in wise pastoral accompaniment of relief and integration processes. The clarifying and conciliatory pastoral voice can be of great importance in shaping the social climate. The worst-case scenario in this case is always that populist social and political groups take advantage of emerging difficulties for their own interests.
  2. We share the belief that, in recent years, the aid program Family to Family organized by Caritas Poland has been extremely effective and saved the lives of thousands of Syrian refugee families in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. We propose that the assistance efforts for refugees from Ukraine in Poland be covered by an analogous Family to Family Let one family (or several families) care for a family from Ukraine, first of all in the form of an accompaniment, devoting time, introducting its members to life in our society, to the wealth of our culture, the beauty of our religious life, but also in the form of material help in case of need.

In our conditions, this implies a great promotion of organized volunteer work, searching for and appreciating people who will use their time, good will, and competence to help others. This will involve necessary training so that the enthusiasm and sensitivity to providing charitable aid will be deepened by knowledge and the professionalization of the volunteer action.

  1. We wish to remind all the faithful, as Pope Francis has, that in each of the refugees “Jesus is present as he was at the time of Herod. In the faces of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, strangers and prisoners, we are called to see the face of Christ who pleads with us to help (cf. Mt 25:31-46). If we can recognize him in those faces, we will be the ones to thank him for having been able to meet, love and serve him in them” (Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 2020).

May these words be a special signpost for us during this season of Lent. Following the example of St. Veronica and St. Simon of Cyrene, let us not miss the opportunity to relieve the plight of refugees who are afflicted by war, suffering, and fearing for their loved ones.

Pastors, on the other hand, should not hesitate to rush to the aid of their parishioners. Today, much indeed depends on the word and willingness to initiate pastoral action. May the Good Samaritan, who was not indifferent to the misery of others, be the model of mercy for all priests.

We also appeal to all the media, especially the Catholic media, to devote their time and resources to transmitting reliable information, witnessing to the evangelical approach to strangers in our community, who through mercy and wise assistance will in a special way become our sisters and brothers.

We address words of fraternal love to all those seeking refuge in our country. We want to assure them of our full solidarity, kindness, and openness to their needs. In this difficult time, let none of be left alone. Whatever their religious confession my be, let us join with them in a community of pain, compassion, but also of hope that flows from faith, so that injustice and barbarism may never have the last word.

Bishop Krzysztof Zadarko
President of the Council of the Polish Bishops’ Conference
for Migration, Tourism, and Pilgrimages

Warsaw, 14 March 2022