“Facing a crisis with many Faces”: this was the title given to a meeting organised by COMECE which brought together bishops from the Middle East, southern and western Europe, with Catholic experts from the field, to discuss migration. COMECE is the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community.
It was the Bishop of Eisenstadt, Mgr. Agidius Zsifkovics, in his capacity as COMECE co-ordinator on Refugees, Migration and Integration, who invited the participants to the international conference held in Heiligenkreuz (Austria) on 15 & 16 February. “The suffering of people, of men, women and children, make it essential for us to engage in frank and constructive discussion”, the bishop stated. That so many Church representatives took the trouble to come to Heiligenkreuz he welcomed as a “powerful sign” of Christian resolve.
The encounter offered the bishops present a platform to engage in a free and frank exchange of experiences and opinions, some of which were open to controversial interpretation. The information shared by participants from countries of origin of migrants, countries of transit and the countries of final destination mirror a rich variety of political and social realities prevailing in the individual countries. The Bishop of Eisdenstadt emphasised how the Church’s aim is to accompany migrants, to walk side by side with them into the future.
The situation of refugees in Europe has been of concern to COMECE for some time. Already in December 2015, at the specific request of his fellow bishops, Bishop Zsifkovics produced a detailed position paper on the theme of migration which was communicated by the COMECE President, Reinhard Cardinal Marx, to the EU institutions and EU heads of state and government. The Heiligenkreuz gathering represents a further step taken by the Catholic Church in making an active and constructive contribution to this political and social debate.
The provisional conclusions of the exchange of views and experience will be shared with the COMECE Plenary Assembly at the beginning of March. The Secretary General, Father Patrick Daly, expressed the hope that concrete proposals would then emerge.
The Heiligenkreuz gathering brought together cardinals, bishops and other Church representatives from Syria, Iraq, Greece, Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Germany, Austria and Scandinavia. Among those who participated in the meeting were the Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo, the Chaldean-Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako and the Chaldean-Catholic Bishop of Aleppo, Antoine Audo SJ.