World Conference on Xenophobia, Racism, and Populist Nationalism
In the Context of Global Migration and Refugees
18-20 September 2018, Rome
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC General Secretary


Your Eminences Peter Cardinal Turkson and Kurt Cardinal Koch,
Distinguished participants, dear friends.

We are gathered here for a very significant reason, a demanding task, a call from God coming to us through many migrants today. Many of the find themselves to be excluded from the future of security and hope all human beings share. Together we are addressing fear of the other, the expressions of that fear, the political use or abuse of fear, and the cynical profit from the fear of refugees and migrants.

It is human to feel fear and anxiety. It is a natural response to protect ourselves and those we love.  Yet fear can be used to divide and to polarize and to create more fear.  We are here because churches are called to confront together the destructive forces of fear, of xenophobia, racism, and populist, exclusive nationalism. These are just three layers in the same wall that divides us as human beings, expressing closed identities neglecting the right and the dignity of the other: “us” against “them,” “our security” against their vulnerability, “our wealth” against their right for life and livelihood. All these sentiments are deeply rooted in fear.

We have to have a clear priority in addressing fear. I still remember first learning about the situation of refugees in the world today. It was through reading stories about the refugee children from Hungary in the 1950s, fleeing to find a new home.  The words fear and fleeing had a very strong impact on me – and still have, I hope.
Among the most vulnerable today are refugees all over the world, fleeing  conflict and violence, trying to find a new home, a safe space. Many even lose their lives on their way, for example in the Mediterranean Sea not far from here.  These crude realities of inhumanity must be addressed together by all who have means to do so. We have to do so also to protect ourselves from becoming inhuman.

In many ways it means to work beyond the boundaries. We have seen many good, concrete examples of this work, like the Mediterranean Hope in Italy, France and Belgium – and from other places in the world. We are here to learn from one another how we can make a difference. We believe that we as human beings can do much better than what we see today.

“Perfect love casts out fear” says the Bible (1 John 4:18). This is a strong and courageous statement; and it is true. This is another basic human experience. It should be the message of the church: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16). So let the church be the church. Let us stand for neighbour love and justice, for strong relationships of mutual support, for unity in the diversity of humankind. Let us be ambassadors of the love of Christ working for healing and reconciliation in this world torn apart not only by fear, but selfish greed and hatred. Let us nurture hope for a common future without fear of the other.

The love of Christ is far more than emotions. It fosters renewal of relationships between God and the world and among all of us broken by the consequences of sin that undermines life. Christian discipleship moved by love comes with responsibility for the other and accountability to family, to other people, to all creatures of God. Christ provoked his disciples to extend their realm of responsibility and accountability beyond any border – including even enemies.

The love of Christ includes the obligation to affirm the life and livelihoods of people and not to create the disasters of violence and war that force people to flee and to migrate. The love of Christ requires us not to succumb to racism but to resist exclusion based on fear, the fear that fuels xenophobia and exclusive nationalism.

This event is to show that we together assume our responsibility and accountability to others as disciples of Christ.  I am delighted that we can do this together, as a joint event between the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. Our relationship in “walking, praying and working together” was strongly affirmed through the visit of Pope Francis to Geneva in June. In decades of ecumenical dialogue, we have built consensus on fundamental aspects of faith and order. We have engaged together in inter-religious dialogue and worked together for the formation of young ecumenical leaders. More recently we have begun to cooperate closely for climate justice and care for creation. We have addressed together global injustices. Now we take also a decisive step to develop our cooperation solidly in aid of migrants and refugees. We see that together we can contribute to heal and reconcile societies deeply divided in their reaction to foreigners and strangers, to the poor and marginalized in their midst.

The WCC sees all this movement towards greater unity in the perspective of our journey of faith, a pilgrimage of justice and peace that looks for signs of the presence of God in this world. This pilgrimage is a movement moved by the love of Christ for people and the earth. This love has animated and energized Christians to journey in faith together, to overcome their historic divisions, to support human rights, and to reach out in love.

The message of love, of unity in diversity, of healing and salvation, of hospitality and solidarity with all who are in need is more urgent today than ever:

We must help millions of migrants and refugees to secure their safety and to integrate them into new homes;

We must heal societies that are deeply divided by xenophobia, racism and hatred;
We must ensure that women and children are always and everywhere protected against abuse and are treated with dignity;
We must become authentic communities as churches, defending human rights and accountable in our faith, especially to the most vulnerable and marginalized;
We must address and overcome the destructive consequences of sinful economic structures and greed and care for our common home.

I believe that the starting point for our reflections on migration is not the “otherness of the other” as stranger, but the sense of mutual belonging to the one body of Christ and--in the wider circle—to one human family. Migrants and refugees, as subjects of their destiny, encourage us take a pro-active stance toward the transformation of our societies so that they are safe places for diverse people, places where hope is nurtured and not fear.  We will not allow the divisive forces of xenophobia, racism, and nationalist populism to prevail, but are ready to struggle for the consciousness of all people affected by them.

The existential context of migration reveals the deeper meaning of community and mutual belonging, encouraging us to stand up for the rights of the other and to share in our common humanity in all its diversity. The dangers we face make us more conscious of our shared humanity, and our solidarity as Christians frees us to serve the one world created by the one God. This is important especially in view of the advent of a new generation whose creativity, openness, and joy can offer fresh energy and ideas to make our earthly home more closely akin to the realm of God and God’s justice.

How will this happen? How it always happens: love will find a way.

Love will bind us as churches and as Christians to each other and to our neighbours across the street and around the world. Love will free us from distorted values and deep prejudice.  Love will see through the falsehoods of racism and tribalism. Love will open us up to learn from criticism and self-criticism of our own complicity. Love will fire our dreams of freedom and peace. Love will unleash new visions, creative thinking, and fresh approaches to our steepest challenges. And love will give us the courage and stamina, the heart and soul, to rescue progress from deep danger, and peace from peril.

Fellow pilgrims on God’s pilgrimage of justice and peace, you are—we are— building that ecumenical movement of love, grounded in the one Spirit of Christ, ever eager and alert to journey on together in faith and hope for a better world.

And so I urge you: Through our solidarity and struggle, through breaking barriers and boundaries, through our work and welcome, let this be a joint pilgrimage to a new hope, and a new future as one humanity created and loved by the one God.