A dinghy and refugees afloat in the sea

Photo credit: Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth/WCC

DESPITE RESTRAINED RESOURCES, the churches of Europe are at the forefront in supporting refugees and have renewed this commitment with ecumenical partners at the recent 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches.

The Brunnen Workshop at the assembly highlighted voices from churches in Greece, Bavaria and the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME).

The event offered insights into the European churches’ response to the refugee crisis, their efforts for integration, and most importantly, how they are practicing a Christian commitment to hospitality in practical terms.

“The Church of Greece has been playing an essential role in welcoming, initial approach and facilitating the integration of refugees, aiming at achieving peaceful coexistence in a mutually beneficial way for them and the reception society”, said Metropolitan Gabriel of Nea Ionia and Philadelphia, from the Orthodox Church of Greece.

Greece is one of the major entry points into Europe for refugees and migrants. The country has received over a million individuals since the beginning of 2015. However, the influx of refugees has reduced drastically the last couple of years.

Metropolitan Gabriel said that projects that support refugees are deeply rooted in the theological foundation of the Greek Orthodox tradition. The church is providing legal and psychosocial assistance as well as running shelters for unaccompanied minors.

“Each human is created in the image of God. Therefore, the stranger in Christian theology is neither an enemy, nor an opponent, but a fellow human, a brother or sister, regardless of origin or religion”, he commented.

“The church of today and tomorrow is a church that is aware of its diversity”, added Michael Martin from the Oberkirchenrat of the Lutheran Church in Bavaria. “The concept on migration and flight is an important building block in this concept, as it opens the view to perceptions, analysis and concretions that consistently result from God’s promise of life to all people.”

“The conception reminds Christians of God’s gifts, which have been entrusted to all in God’s people collectively and equally. It reminds us of God’s grace and that God has called the whole church to hope and to be together. From this very remembrance comes the powerful vision of shaping church life in the immigration society as an inclusive communion”, said Martin.

Andrej Jevtic from the Serbian Orthodox Church, representing CCME, shared the organisation’s Easter Statement at the workshop. This affirms Europe’s commitment to refugees in strong terms.

Jevtic explained how the statement outlines responses from European churches, organisations, individuals and civic groups to the war in Ukraine, manifesting empathy and solidarity for refugees fleeing the conflict. The CCME statement also notes how EU has activated programmes and legislations, which are rather welcoming and generous towards the refugees from Ukraine.

However, the CCME also expresses remorse that some of the Ukrainian refugees were discriminated against, based on their ethnicity, religion and origin.

Jevtic invoked dialogue among workshop participants about how, in a secularised Europe, appeals from Christian leaders can still be effective. The importance of inter-Christian cooperation on the level of hospitality and assistance to migrants, as well as issue of racism was highlighted.

The panel was moderated by Nikos Kouremenos from the Volos Academy for Theological Studies.

* WCC 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany