Advocacy is about politics and change, values and beliefs, consciousness and knowledge. It is about building democratic organizations and expanding citizens’ skills to understand how power operates. It is a sort of good advice empowering people to know the reality, how to make choices and how to behave in modern society.
Pope Francis, during the SFMM (Social Forum on Migrations – Mexico November 2018), sent a clear message: the refugees and the migrants are persons and no one has the right to think for them, or judge their reasons for taking this adventurous risk. Nevertheless, their own family, their own people, their own Church has the right to give them some advice. Some African bishops made their advocacy for youth with these strong words: “Do not believe in false promises leading to slavery” and death “in the Mediterranean or in the Libyan desert.”
Gathered in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, from 14 to 20 of May, for their Third Plenary Assembly, the bishops of Recowa-Cerao – the national and inter-territorial conferences of West Africa – published a statement and a pastoral message that referred, also, to the scourge of mass emigration.
The Bishops praised the important steps Africa has taken, in recent years, thanks to the Church’s missionary, charitable commitment, and the dedication of her children. However, they point out the “unexpected threats, unprecedented tragedies and new disasters threatening to destroy all these efforts for social development and human progress.” The list is long: epidemics, environmental disasters, sectarian violence, attacks on democracy, difficulty in reaching national reconciliation, new forms of terrorism and poverty. They stressed “the problem of migration that especially affects young Africans” and addressed part of their message directly to them.
“You represent the present and the future of Africa, which must struggle with all its resources for the dignity and happiness of her sons and daughters. In this context, we cannot be silent about the phenomenon of migration of young Africans to Europe. Our hearts as pastors and fathers suffer at the sight of these boats overloaded with young people, women and children, which are destroyed in the waves of the Mediterranean. Certainly, we understand your thirst for the happiness and well-being that your countries do not offer you.
Unemployment, misery, poverty remain evils that humiliate and revolt. However, they are not enough for you to sacrifice yourselves by taking such dangerous paths to destinations where happiness seems to escape those who live in these places you so desire to reach. God did not strip Africa bare. On the contrary, it has provided her with so much human and natural resources that it can offer all her children what they need.”
Beyond words, we can perceive also the Catholic teaching, stating that risking one own life for a false or inconsistent reason, is not in agreement with God’s will. Hence, the bishops invoke the Lord to make young people “more aware” of the “dangers of irregular emigration. Given these tragedies that are all unfolding before our eyes, we must recognize that Africa is collapsing.” The advocacy call is clear: “With hard work and perseverance you can succeed in Africa and, more importantly, make this continent a prosperous land.”
The bishops’ attention is also directed to “all those who return from an unfortunate experience of emigration,” hoping that they can find in the Church “a pastoral and spiritual welcome allowing them to reintegrate in their own countries and their own ecclesial communities in order to fully live their faith.”
The bishops, at the end of their message, make two requests. The first to the Governments and the Politicians of the immigrants’ countries of origin: “Because of your political functions, you are especially the guardians of your brothers and sisters and of your nations. In their aspirations for development, in their deep desire for betterment, in their struggle for better living conditions, in their aspirations for peace, education and happiness, the eyes of your peoples are turned towards you.” Then, the bishops make a real advocacy call: “Without wishing to take your place, your mission being of a different nature, the Church, however, stands by your side. With you, she wants to work to promote peaceful nations and communities more united around the new values of the kingdom that transcends ethnic and geographical barriers. With governments, she wants to work together to promote good governance, the rule of law, transparent elections, the smooth conduct of elections, and respect for national constitutions and election results.”
The second request is addressed to the host countries. “We call for a more just international order so that, since the goods of the earth belong to all, we achieve a better distribution of the resources of the world and more just remuneration of the efforts of each one, so that the riches of our countries may benefit everyone.”
The bishops are aware that no one can be the sign of hope if they are not credible. Therefore they reach out fraternally to all religious people. “The paradox of our region with the development of new forms of fundamentalism, sources of blind violence, which sow terror and destabilize our nations, call us to into question. Can we still speak of a holy war? In the name of which God and of which religion can one still kill human beings and innocent persons who are only asking to be allowed to live?”
John Paul Pezzi, mccj
VIVAT International NGO
with consultative special status at UN