A group of ten Catholic and Lutheran Bishops of Nordic countries have warned that if we fail the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, we will lose our humanity. The statement was signed by, among others, Cardinal Anders Arborelius, Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Stockholm and Tapio Luoma, Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.
A line we must not cross
The bishops said that Lent is a time of reflection, a time for examining personal life and life as a member of society. Lent is a time when one can recognise the boundaries that exist regarding what we may do, as well as those we should overcome. Using the words of the Prophet Amos, “ do not trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way”, the Bishops warned: “There is a line we must not cross” and justice must prevail.
Coronavirus and the refugee challenges
At present, wrote the Bishops, physical and mental boundaries are being tested by the spread of the new coronavirus and the developing refugee situation on the external borders of Europe. A common trait of both challenges is that they require us to take personal and shared responsibility, across all boundaries and irrespective of political convictions. “These situations challenge us as people and members of the human race. Burdens should be shared and shouldered jointly. If we fail, we lose our humanity”, warned the Bishops.
Refugees can never lose their human rights
However, noted the Bishops, that is where the similarities end. A virus must be combated. This does not apply to people who are seeking safe refuge. “People who are fleeing insupportable conditions can lose almost everything – but never their human rights”, affirmed the Bishops.
Humanity being tested
What is currently happening on the border between Turkey and Greece, is putting our humanity to the test observed the Bishops. “Complex political, cultural, financial and democratic problems give rise to legitimate concerns and fears. Such fears must be taken seriously but must not keep us captive and prevent us from shouldering our responsibility” said the statement.
Never accept dehumanisation
The Bishops had strong words for those whose thoughts and deeds resulted in dehumanising others. “If we want to live up to what it means to be human, we must never accept the dehumanisation of people fleeing terrible conditions, nor their reduction to a threat”. A dignified response, a functioning right to asylum and shared responsibility for refugees are what countries need to provide as democratic countries and as people.
Turning away refugees undermines Christian values
The right to seek asylum is a human right, continued the statement. EU Member States have undertaken not to send people back to conditions of oppression and persecution; this is both a legal commitment and a moral obligation. “Assuring order and prosperity in Europe at the cost of chaos on its external borders is incompatible with the ethical convictions on which the Europe we live in today was built. Claiming to protect Christian values or communities by shutting out those who seek safe refuge from violence and suffering is unacceptable, undermines Christian witness in the world and raises up national borders as idols” said the Catholic and Lutheran Bishops.
The EU, they wrote, is the result of a peace project, and this is what the EU must continue to be. “The principal danger to Europe,” they observd, “does not stem from the thousands of people seeking refuge at the borders to our continent. Rather, it comes from a breakdown in belief in the future, from a loss of universal values and human dignity, and from short-sighted politics on all sides. The danger is that our senses become dulled to the extent that we lose our common humanity”.
The Nordic hope
The Bishops observed what they called ‘some green shoots of hope’. “Experience from our Nordic countries demonstrates that basic humanity and solidarity with refugees is alive and well. Taking a stand against the weak and helpless being trampled down and the afflicted being pushed out of the way, and contributing to justice rolling down like waters – that is what it means to be human. We are, after all, one human race under God, living together under the same sky” concluded the Bishops on a note of courage and empowerment.
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