As migrants arrive, let us go beyond fear!
The meeting in Riga organized by the Taizé Community at the end of December 2016 brought together young adults from across Europe.(1) Coming both from member-countries of the European Union and countries that do not belong to it, they had an experience of community capable of uniting people from the whole continent.
This Nordic gathering also enabled young people from other regions to discover the Europe of the Baltic States, one of the facets of the beautiful diversity of peoples on this continent, each with its own history, traditions and special characteristics.
A future of peace requires Europeans to broaden their awareness and allow solidarity to grow among all the countries that make up the continent. Multiplying contacts, forms of sharing and collaboration is essential.
Building the unity of the continent can only take place if there is more dialogue and listening between countries: those of the European Union and the others, those of Western Europe and those of Central and Eastern Europe, those of the North and the South. Each country, large or small, should be able to have its voice heard, with its specific character. It is important to make the effort to understand from within the mentality of others: only in this way can sometimes discordant attitudes be better understood and reactions motivated by emotion alone be avoided.
Can Europeans discover that their common roots are much deeper than their differences?
In the wake of the Second World War, Europe developed a momentum towards reconciliation. Then, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was a new era of seeking unity. Many young people feel that Europe will only be able to progress if it enters more deeply into this ideal of fraternity. They aspire to a Europe not only united within itself, but open to the other continents and in solidarity with the peoples undergoing the greatest trials.
Throughout the world, women, men, and children are forced to leave their homelands. It is their distress that causes them to leave. This motivation is stronger than all the barriers erected to block their way. The anxiety expressed in the wealthier regions will not keep those who undergo unbearable suffering from leaving their homes.
Some people say, “We cannot welcome everybody.” Others think that the current population movements are inevitable, since they are brought about by intolerable situations. To attempt to regulate these movements is legitimate and necessary. To leave refugees in the hands of human smugglers and at risk of death in the Mediterranean flies in the face of every human value.
Rich countries cannot evade their share of responsibility for the wounds of history and for the environmental disturbances that have caused and continue to cause huge migrations—from Africa, the Middle East, Central America, and other regions too. Today, certain political and economic choices made by wealthy countries are still creating instability in other areas. Western societies now need to go beyond the fear of foreigners, of cultural differences, and begin courageously to shape the new face that migrations are already giving them. Although the arrival of migrants does pose real difficulties, their coming can be an opportunity to stimulate Europe to develop openness and solidarity.
There are places where the number of arrivals is so high that the inhabitants are overwhelmed and exhausted, and this is comprehensible. The burden is too great for them, since the countries of Europe have not yet found a way to carry it together. But many people are offering a generous welcome to refugees and are discovering that personal contacts can often lead to a beautiful mutual understanding.
Nothing replaces personal contacts. This is true notably with respect to Islam. Muslims and Christians can look for practical steps to witness together to peace and to reject together all violence justified in God’s name. Some 800 years ago, Francis of Assisi, in his desire to contribute to peace, did not hesitate to travel to Egypt to meet the Sultan. Mother Teresa devoted her life to the poorest of the poor, whatever their religion.
European countries that want to isolate themselves will have no future. Among Europeans themselves, as well as in their contact with refugees, friendship and mutual support is the only path to preparing peace.
(1) From 28 December 2016 to 1 January 2017, young adults from the entire continent—Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants—took part in the 39th European meeting animated by the Taizé Community at Riga, the capital of Latvia. On 2 January, this gathering was extended to Tallinn (Estonia) and Vilnius (Lithuania). It was a stage in the “pilgrimage of trust on earth” undertaken by Taizé for many years now.