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Appeal to public conscience

As the country struggles to decipher truth from rhetoric on the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, out comes the Bishop of Gozo to talk sense with sobriety. He lambasted Europe, saying it had lost its social conscience and dumped at sea its fundamental principles. He even called it criminal.

It was a disappointed bishop, who has been watching the country’s values eroded and replaced by wanton egoistic individualism.

Mgr Grech says Europe’s attitude on migration is shameful and scandalous. The insincerity and lack of political will by European institutions has led to a situation where some countries have taken actions to prevent migrants from reaching safe harbours and stop rescue operations by NGOs. Those countries include Malta.

“Such criminal attitude by Europe should never justify any decision by us, Maltese, that endanger the lives of the migrants. We must never take morally wrong decisions to achieve worthy aims. Saving human life must come before any economic or political calculations,” the bishop said. But that is what is happening.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna sounded a similar warning in a homily in Mdina. He said: “Woe betide us if we close the door [to migrants], if we harden our hearts and if we insult, criticise and condemn those who remind us what being Christian truly means.”

Mgr Grech made a most pertinent question: how can anyone participate in Mass or celebrate the feasts of saints but show indifference to what is happening to migrants? It is the paradox of this once-Catholic Malta: external public devotion but nothing is coming from the heart. It is not real.

Some time ago, Mgr Grech had appealed to the faithful for communities in Gozo to adopt a migrant family but that fell on deaf ears. He now calls on parish communities to raise money in aid of migrants during collections on feast days. That is more realistic and convenient: to donate funds from a distance. It eases the conscience but that is not what the Gozo Bishop truly wants. He wants Christianity in action.

In Kerċem, on Sunday, he again appealed to “our generous people” to donate money to the Jesuit Refugees Service to help migrants.

The migrants’ issue is a hard nut to crack. It is a problem soaked in racism and the country’s island mentality. It is a problem that also affects the increasing immigrant (working) population. The migrants from Africa, however, the ones most in need of help, are the least welcome.

It is useless to look upon the government to lead the way. Its policies are contradictory, aimed to appease the phobia it itself once promoted through the infamous push-back policy. It then settled instead for a private agreement with a former Italian prime minister, an arrangement that was officially denied, of course, but which worked for years.

Now Matteo Renzi is gone and the new Italian government is showing no compromise with the migrants, or with Malta. So the Maltese government tries to appease, escalating the problem.

Mgr Grech can draw one lesson from all this: how ineffective the Church has been in promoting Christian values. People are not just leaving the Church, they are dropping all that it stands for, all that it teaches, like helping the needy, the powerless, the victims of situations beyond their control: the migrant.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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