Prelate Affirms Social Doctrine on UN Refugee Day

Cardinal Martino Notes Difficulties Governments Face

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 20, 2008 (Zenit.org).- A Vatican official said today's celebration of International Refugee Day is an occasion to reaffirm the Church's social doctrine.

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travelers, told L'Osservatore Romano today that "the acceptance of foreigners is at the heart of European identity."

Eight years ago, the United Nations declared June 20 as International Refugee Day.

According to Cardinal Martino, the U.N. initiative is "an occasion to reaffirm the principles established by the social doctrine of the Church and also included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

The prelate said that the conditions of refugees should be given particular attention within the broader issue of human mobility: "The protection of specific rights cannot fizzle out because of any type of generalized evaluations of such fluctuations which, moreover, affect concrete persons who in turn are titulars of inalienable rights."

Humanitarian policies

Cardinal Martino noted that this year, Refugee Day takes place just two days after a European Parliament vote on immigration, which opponents are criticizing as overly harsh.

In this connection, he clarified that the Church is not hostile to a plan to regulate migration, but affirms that "it must not only protect human rights, but must also be based on them."

"Among these rights is that of the refugee to be protected," the prelate stated. "Among the duties [...] is that of protecting individuals persecuted for reasons of race, nationality, religion, political ideas or membership in social groups, as established in the 1951 Geneva Convention."

Along the same lines, he called for the protection of those who are fleeing from situations of war and violence.

The Church "profoundly respects the responsibility of governmental and supranational institutions in their task of guaranteeing both hospitality and security, and does not ignore the difficulties in applying humanitarian policies given the pressure of prevailing public opinion that has no lack of hostility toward foreigners," he continued. "The teaching and commitment of the Church is to respond with a spirit of service to the questions posed by migratory fluctuations, at the level of rights and at the social and ecclesial level.

"Benedict XVI himself several times -- including last Sunday with special reference to Italy -- appealed for solidarity with those who arrive in search of a better life."

Good sense

The cardinal suggested that the first answer lies "in an integration that finds a balance -- the Pope has spoken of 'civic good sense' -- between respect for one's identity and acknowledgement of that of another, without which the tension between security and acceptance would not be dissolved."

In this connection, "Europe is asked not to distort its culture and extirpate its roots with a merely utilitarian vision of coexistence," he noted.

Acknowledging that governments and institutions must take into account national and community interests, the cardinal affirmed that this must be done "in the context of the universal common good."

"European thought, champion of human rights, can and must be directed to the achievement of the common good of the whole of humanity," he exhorted, "an end that calls for support, solidarity, assistance and cooperation."