Europe is currently facing the type and breadth of challenges that have not been seen for a generation: high unemployment, mass migration, the threat of terrorism as an effect of conflicts across the globe, and political and economic problems in many countries. In the light of this time of uncertainty more than 30 religious leaders from all over Europe gathered from 10-13 May 2016 in Brixen/Italy, representing the European Council of Religious Leaders ECRL.
“We support freedom of religion and belief for everyone, but also recognise the difficult balance inherent in providing the necessary resources for migrants and refugees to practice their religion, whilst also respecting the customs and identity of host communities”, ECRL members state in a common declaration representatives from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Zoroastrian traditions published today.
“We are conscious that in some conflicts religion is being implicated in violence, but it would be unjust to see it as the only or principal cause. We believe those that fear the consequences of mass migration should not be labelled xenophobic or bigoted, and their fears should be listened to, respected and addressed. We should also be willing to remind migrants of their responsibilities of respecting and adhering to the laws and traditions of host countries.”, the declaration underlines, continuing: “We urge religious groups to draw on their vast spiritual and religious reserves to ensure that those who have suffered from traumatic experiences feel safe and respected in the host communities.”
ECRL moderator Rev Dr Thomas Wipf showed his appreciation for the kind and tremendous efforts of individuals, civil society, and faith based organisations that have contributed to welcoming and assisting refugees. At the same time Wipf appealed to the United Nations, European institutions and public authorities to assist refugees to the best of their ability.
The meeting was hosted by the Roman-Catholic diocese of Brixen/Bressanone. A public reception accompanied by regional church and state representatives from South Tyrol called the attention to the current refugee situation for example at the nearby Brenner Pass. “To close the internal frontiers of the European Union is to step backwards in building solidarity”, said Luigi Bressan, Archbishop emeritus of Trento and co-host of the ECRL meeting. At the same time “the generosity of our people is admirable: we don´t stop working because of the criticism by some political parties”.
“Religious communities have huge resources and potential to help migrants, as well as the capacity to allay fears and anxieties of host communities”, said Dr Mark Owen, Director of the Winchester Centre of Religion, Reconciliation and Peace WCRRP, during his keynote address. “Careful consideration needs to be undertaken in order to demonstrate competence and maintain the credibility of participating religious actors in the eyes of the international community.”
The next ECRL Council meeting will take place from 16-18 May 2017 in Turku, Finland.
The complete text of the ECRL Brixen declaration “Mass migration: A European Challenge” can be downloaded here.
The European Council of Religious Leaders – Religions for Peace (ECRL) brings together senior religious leaders from Europe’s historical religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam together with Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and Zoroastrians. ECRL has participatory status with the Council of Europe. ECRL is one of five regional Interreligious Councils with the Religions for Peace network. Religions for Peace – accredited to the United Nations – is the world’s largest and most representative multi-religious coalition advancing common action for peace since 1970.