Taking on the challenge of migration

Photo: Albin Hillert/CEC

By Astrid Weyermüller

“In the coming years we will continue to work closely with the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and to deepen our cooperation in many areas,” says Lemma Desta moderator of the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME).

This close cooperation reflects the current situation of churches throughout Europe, all of whom have been touched by migration and refugee issues in some way. Working together strengthens advocacy efforts, support churches working in refugee receiving countries, and discuss issues relating to integration.

One of CCME’s main areas of concern is the situation of migrant churches and their influence on the societies in which they live. “I am convinced that migrant churches need to be acknowledged be able to fully execute their right to freedom of religion,” says Desta. “We have to create spaces for people with other Christian traditions, cultures and identities.” He sees a reciprocity between the integration of people coming into a specific society and the need for a society to change to accommodate people coming to them. Exchange with persons from other religions migrating to Europe is also important for this dialogue.

Workshops highlight churches work on migration

Developments in the area migration, asylum, integration, and antidiscrimination were an important part of the 2018 Novi Sad General Assembly of the Conference of European Churches. Workshops helped explore these issues in more depth and give delegates an opportunity to share experiences from their home churches.

A workshop on ecclesiology in time of migration explored the character of the churches in Europe as shaped by migration and ecclesial hospitality. It reviewed outcomes of the 2016 consultation “Being Church in Europe Today: Migration and Ecclesiology” and the World Council of Churches Faith and Order document “The Church: Towards a Common Vision.”

Another workshop focused on refugee protection as a task of the churches. The biblical foundations of the work of churches in support of refugees were examined, underlining the principle of “hospitality to the stranger.” The workshop highlighted the reaction of churches to the refugee arrivals of 2015 and in the years that followed.

Experiencing migration

One Assembly participant, Helen Kesete, has personal experience of living in a European country with a migration background and has relatives who crossed the Mediterranean to reach this continent.

The Youth Advisor was born into an Eritrean family in Finland where she grew up and started going to the Orthodox Church of Finland. People from various migration backgrounds participated in the youth work of the church and Kesete also started feeling at home here. “The church was Orthodox but a bit less strict than the Eritrean Orthodox Church that we also have,” she says.

Being a Finnish citizen yet having relatives in Eritrea results in contrasting experiences. “I feel privileged to have grown up without worries,” she says. “But I don’t think it is fair that a relative had flee from Eritrea and come to Europe as a refugee. He had a difficult time and had to hide away because he did not want to stay in Italy where he would have had to sleep on the street.” She is convinced that churches should fight for better conditions and the fair treatment of people in such a situation.

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