Representatives of many different Christian churches, meeting at a Rome conference from 18-20 September, are calling for deeper spiritual reflection and greater practical action to support migrants and refugees.
The “World Conference on Xenophobia, Racism, and Populist Nationalism in the Context of Global Migration” is jointly organised by the Vatican and the World Council of Churches (WCC).
Among the Catholic participants is Fr Fabio Baggio, undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees section of the Vatican’s office for Integral Human Development. He urges Christians to follow Pope Francis’ example of walking and praying together with refugees, supporting in particular the most vulnerable migrants who often fall into the hands of human traffickers.
Baggio notes that in many countries of the world today, Christians of different confessions are cooperating together on what he calls ‘the four Ps’ – prevention, protection of survivors, prosecution of traffickers, and partnerships in combating this global phenomenon.
In many of the “hot spots” or countries of origin for migrants in Africa, Asia and Latin America, he says, churches are working proactively on advocacy for new legislation, “calling governments to their responsibility” and “upholding the rights and dignity of victims or survivors”.
Baggio also points to the importance of joint theological reflection on migration and trafficking, mentioning a recent ecumenical gathering of Christian theologians in El Salvador. While trafficking in the past was mainly linked to sexual exploitation, he says, today it is a much more complex phenomenon including slave labour, organ trafficking, and women being bought and sold for reproductive purposes.
The Catholic church, Baggio says, has been congratulated by the United Nations for its work to combat trafficking, but he stresses there is “much room for cooperation for the future”. Documenting best practises, Baggio insists, is essential to prove that simple, inexpensive and effective solutions are possible, as outlined in a 20 Point Action Plan drawn up by the Vatican ahead of the UN global compacts on migration and refugees.
Reflecting on the theme of Pope Francis’ recent visit to the WCC headquarters in Geneva, Baggio says all communities can pray together for migrants, refugees and victims of human trafficking. Walking together with these vulnerable people, he continues, is exactly what Pope Francis does, modelling a kind of pastoral care that goes beyond numbers and official documents. Finally, he concludes, Christians must continue to work together, building on the cooperation which is already there at a grassroots level.