ROME – Migrants and refugees are often treated as the source of all problems in our societies, but they are also bearers of good things, according to Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
Speaking about the topic “A minority that evangelizes” in a public lecture at the Pontifical Gregorian University on Nov. 20, the Archbishop of Manila analyzed some nuances that the word “minority” can assume in evangelization. His talk was developed upon some of Pope Francis’s thoughts in the 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).
“There is a world trend now of seeing the other as a threat. And in our days the other is especially the migrant. Migrants are seen as a threat to our identity and to our peace,” the cardinal said while answering questions after his talk.
“Migrants are now scapegoats for all evils,” Tagle explained. “There is a phantasmagoric fear of them, because, as we discovered through Caritas, most people who are afraid of migrants do not know them well. It’s a fear that is not based in reality.”
Tagle is the president of the international charity Caritas, which, in the context of several anti-migrant policies over the world, recently launched a campaign called “Share the Journey.” Its aim is to improve the empathy to migrants and refugees in societies that welcome them.
“With this initiative, the Holy Father wants to promote a culture of personal encounter. The migrants that we refuse are probably bearers of many good things, not only problems,” he said.
The cardinal recalled that his own family is made up of migrants in the Philippines.
“When I hear that migrants are dangerous, I remember my grandfather. This migrant produced a bishop.”
Tagle was asked about how Christians who are persecuted in places where they are minorities can protect themselves, and still witness their faith. He said that, first of all, their witness is not their persecution but in how they manage to keep their faith even under persecution.
“They experience a mysterious presence and power; a miracle,” he said.
In addition, he said the Church has to not only denounce the persecution of Christians, but be balanced as well. “The Church has to denounce also persecution of people from other religions and faiths.”
He said it is a matter of “protecting the dignity of every human being and the right of religious freedom.”
Tagle then commented on state policies that select migrants according to their religion. Measuring his words and without mentioning any specific country, he said: “When a government decides to accept only Christian migrants and refugees, closing the doors for others, it is not a good sign for the world. It is not a good example of the universal love of our God.”
Speaking as the Archbishop of Manila, the capital of the Catholic-majority Philippines, Tagle spoke about the challenges of evangelizing in places where the Catholic Church was a numerical majority but has been losing size over the years.
“The question is how to deal with change and at the same time preserve tradition, not in the sense of fossilizing the faith. But in the sense of being creative and still faithful,” he said.
Among his suggestions are, first, listening more to those who went on mission and experienced “being a minority numerically and culturally.”
(Tagle mentioned that overall, Catholics in Asia are “a small flock” – so this is not a difficult task in the Philippines.)
Second, the cardinal said that for him, it is not a problem if the number of faithful in the Church seems to collapse, because it is also “an opportunity to revise our way of being a missionary church.”
He believes that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church in the right direction.
“If we only look for problems, we’ll find the problems. But why do we not look for signs of hope? They are true. The Spirit continues to inspire.”
Tagle also mentioned that Jesus himself lived his life among the most marginalized in society. And a “poor Church for the poor,” in the words of Pope Francis, should “share the Gospel with the poor and see the Gospel present in the poor.”
“Those who are in the minority experience the good news [of the Gospel] in a deeper way, because all good news asks for listeners. The minorities listen with more enthusiasm. Who is a part of a minority is full of energy,” Tagle explained.
In this sense, he continued, a personal encounter with Jesus Christ is the true source of joy and good news to be shared by small Christian communities.
“The little ones enjoy the joyful moments with the community and a community of poor is constantly reborn in hope when it shares,” he said.