LEICESTER, United Kingdom – In his latest encyclical, Pope Francis is speaking “directly to the divisive and unpleasant rhetoric which is so pervasive in our society” especially in the UK, according to the head of Britain’s leading Catholic refugee agency.
In Fratelli Tutti – Francis’s third encyclical, released on Sunday – the pontiff devotes an entire chapter the current migration crisis.
“Certain populist political regimes, as well as certain liberal economic approaches, maintain that an influx of migrants is to be prevented at all costs,” Francis writes.
“Migrants are not seen as entitled like others to participate in the life of society, and it is forgotten that they possess the same intrinsic dignity as any person … No one will ever openly deny that they are human beings, yet in practice, by our decisions and the way we treat them, we can show that we consider them less worthy, less important, less human,” he adds.
Coincidentally, the papal document was released the same day the UK Home Secretary – the person in charge of immigration matters – promised to be “firm but fair” with asylum applicants.
“We will stop the abuse of the broken system,” Priti Patel told the Conservative Party conference. “Firm, because we will stop those who come here illegally making endless legal claims to remain. And firm, because we will expedite the removal of those who have no claim for protection.”
Sarah Teather, the director of Jesuit Refugee Service UK (JRS UK), said the pope’s words are “paramount in today’s political climate, especially in the UK.”
“Those who seek to dominate and gain control do so by spreading despair and discouragement, sometimes under the guise of defending certain values. We must instead pursue truth, particularly in the public sphere where truth is increasingly hidden or distorted,” she told Crux.
From 2003 until 2015, Teather was a member of the UK Parliament, representing a London constituency. A member of the Liberal Democrats – the UK’s traditional third party – She served for a time as the Minister of State for Children and Families when Britain had a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government in the early 2010’s. Teather was also chairperson of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, which laid the groundwork for her present position.
She said Fratelli Tutti’s passage on migrants – subtitled ‘An Absence of Human Dignity on the Borders’ – was particularly relevant for JRS.
“In it he calls for migrants and refugees to be ‘agents in their own redemption’ who are allowed the opportunity to participate and afforded the same dignity and worth as anyone else. He highlights that our treatment of migrants and refugees is indicative of the wider lack of human fraternity and reminds us that people can only be fruitful and productive if they are open to others,” Teather told Crux.
During the current COVID-19 pandemic, the UK government has come under fire from human rights advocates for their treatment of asylum seekers. At the beginning of the outbreak, large groups of asylum seekers were moved hundreds of miles, despite the country being in lockdown. Recently, the government announced it would begin deportation procedures against failed asylum seekers, despite the fact the pandemic has made it nearly impossible for them to seek adequate legal counsel about their cases.
“There is a growing disregard for human rights, and this is particularly evident in the cruel and damaging process of seeking asylum in the UK experienced by those accompanied by JRS,” Teather said.
“Those who seek sanctuary in the UK have so much to give and share, and the current process of asylum strips them of their right to work, to family life and community life, instead wasting their youth and destroying their spirit. As Pope Francis tells us we must integrate and be open to everyone as a sign of our universal love of all,” she continued.
She noted the fact Francis used the parable of the Good Samaritan as a framing device for Fratelli Tutti.
“Pope Francis reminds us how we ought to treat our neighbors – including our refugee brothers and sisters – with fraternal love. By asking us to start anew he calls us to make individual and collective steps to offer help to our brothers and sisters, not relying on others or institutions/governments to do it,” she said.
“This speaks directly to our mission at JRS UK to accompany, serve and advocate for our excluded refugee brothers and sisters, in whom we see Christ himself. The Holy Father explicitly asks us to to find concrete ways to welcome, protect, promote and integrate refugees and migrants both in our personal lives, and through wider policy and economics,” Teather added.
The JRS head noted that a welcoming attitude towards asylum seekers and other marginalized people is good for society as a whole by increasing “social friendship and peacebuilding.”
“We need to seek to restore dignity and enable those pushed to the perimeters to be protagonists in society. Peace is not possible where there is inequality and a lack of integral human development,” she explained.
“Division and hostility must be replaced by dialogue, which is vital to our human flourishing,” Teather told Crux.
“Pope Francis encourages a ‘culture of encounter’ in which joy is found in being with others and trying to build understanding and inclusivity. This speaks directly to our mission to accompany our refugee brothers and sisters through mutual encounter,” she said.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome