Pope’s point-man on migrants worries about spread of ‘dangerous’ falsehoods

Pope’s point-man on migrants worries about spread of ‘dangerous’ falsehoods

Pope Francis shakes hands with Undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Michael Czerny during an audience with refugees arriving from Lesbos at the Vatican, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Credit: Ettore Ferrari/ANSA via AP.)

Jesuit Cardinal Michael Czerny, Under-Secretary of the Migrant sand Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, has something keeping him up at night: “The challenge of seeking to engage with truth in spite of the falsehoods that spread so rapidly in modern social media.”

ROME – On any given day, Pope Francis’s point-man for migrants has a stacked inbox on his desk: From coordinating the launch of a papal document on the Amazon region to urging bishops’ conferences across Europe to help asylum seekers.

Yet Jesuit Cardinal Michael Czerny, Under-Secretary of the Migrant sand Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development – an office that answers directly to the pope – has something else keeping him up at night: “The challenge of seeking to engage with truth in spite of the falsehoods that spread so rapidly in modern social media.”

“A few of the falsehoods can be dangerous exaggerations of something good, but I think more of them arise from ill will,” the Canadian cardinal told Crux. “I don’t think it’s really possible to ignore this very new dimension of daily life and pretend that we can stick exclusively to the older forms of communication. Instead we need to develop new skills to navigate cyberspace and be effective while retaining equilibrium and serenity.”

Before heading to this week’s spiritual retreat for members of the Roman Curia in the Italian town of Ariccia, Czerny spoke to Crux in a written exchange.

What follows are excerpts of that conversation.

Crux: In a Jan. 28 letter made public on the website of COMECE Feb. 20, together with Cardinals Konrad Krajewski and Jean-Claude Hollerich, you called on European bishops to help resettle the refugees who are currently stranded in Lesbos. Have you had any response to this appeal? If so, could you give some examples?

Czerny: No, I haven’t received any responses myself. But sponsored resettlement could potentially benefit as many as 20,000 adults and over 1,100 unaccompanied minors who have been stuck indefinitely in temporary camps and precarious structures “in Europe but outside European society,” as we said in our letter.

We went on to say that, as experience already shows, “the chances of a positive reception are higher than hoped for; in fact, many minors have been welcomed into families, while adults and families have been well received by the religious communities, parishes and families who have made themselves available for this service.”

So I am hopeful that we will soon learn of new initiatives to resettle refugees throughout Europe, warmly welcomed in response to Pope Francis’s invitation of September 2015.

Earlier this month, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has appointed you to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which was founded in 1622. Though it’s customary for cardinals to be a part of more than one Vatican office, how do you think your ministry so far can help you in this added responsibility? Do you believe it intersects with the work you’re doing in the Dicastery for Integral Human Development? How so?

In his address to the Roman Curia just before Christmas, Pope Francis called evangelization “the very reason for the Church’s existence … the first and most important task of the Church … the heart of the reform.” Appropriately, the new Apostolic Constitution of the Roman Curia will be called “Predicate evangelium” or “Preach the Gospel.” So with this appointment to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, I feel that my mission as an under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section acquires a deeper foundation and even further-reaching meaning.

One could say that over the first half-century since Vatican II we worked on the Church’s understanding of the characteristics of the modern world – we were learning to read the signs of the times. Now it’s a matter of affirming that Christ, through the Church, is fully incarnate in this world, and all of us in the Curia and throughout the Church need to spread Christ’s message of the fullness of life, life to the full. Our work in M&R bespeaks living the gospel not only in each one’s heart, family, community and parish, but also in the public and social spheres, “impregnating the structures of human coexistence with a bit more justice and a bit more charity” in the words of a former Superior General of the Society of Jesus.

I am curious to hear the perspectives of my colleague cardinals in Propaganda Fide [the traditional name for the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples] and to offer my own. Each of us has met God in particular ways. In addition to the family, schools and cultural contexts that influenced me, I have had the privilege of seeing God at work through the Church all over the world and especially in Central America, Africa, Central Europe where I was born and North America where I grew up and studied. Thanks to what I have seen of many different ways that people encounter God, receive the Gospel and live their faith in daily life, I hope to offer insights for evangelization today and tomorrow.

Now that the “media storm” after the release of Querida Amazonia has settled, but as many Catholics and non-Catholics are still reading it or getting ready to tackle the document, what would you advise them to focus on? What is the “novelty” of this document?

This year, 2020, is the fifth anniversary of Laudato si’. This gives us an opportunity to recall its rich analysis and inspiring plea, calling on humanity to turn away from insanity and to care for our common home and all who live in it, now and into the future. Pope Francis called the Amazon Synod the son of Laudato si’, and Prof. Carlo Nobre called Querida Amazonia the daughter of Laudato si’.

I hope that Catholics and many others will read three texts together: Laudato si’, Querida Amazonia, and the Synod’s Final Document — in order to share in the grand, concrete and generous process of applying Laudato Si’ in a specific region and for the entire world. And they are inextricably linked: the world cannot thrive if the Amazon region deteriorates further.

At the same time, Querida Amazonia is novel among papal documents. It is a love letter full of poetry and dreams. It constantly calls on everyone everywhere in every corner of their society to join in. Querida Amazonia seeks to inspire and to engage everyone to appreciate the fruits of the Synod, as expressed in its Final Document, and get on with applying the suggestions they find there and originally in Laudato si’.

The season of Lent is beginning, and you’re headed to the spiritual retreat for the Roman Curia. What advice do you have for Catholics who, for different reasons – either violence or persecution, age, health or even work – cannot dedicate a handful of days exclusively to better contemplate the mystery that is Christ’s love for humanity?

I suspect that what you describe in your question is more the norm than the exception. Those who have the opportunity to join a retreat, even a few hours of a parish retreat, should obviously do so. But all Catholics, whether they can manage a special retreat or not, should strive to live Lent into their daily lives by renewing their relationships with our heavenly Father (prayer), with their neighbours (alms-giving) and with themselves (fasting).

There is no moment in which we cannot look for the mystery of Christ’s love for humanity. There is no moment when we cannot ask Jesus, “Lord, when do we respond to you?” and hear his answer: “When you feed the hungry and welcome the homeless” as we read in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, “you not only meet my need but you meet me in the least of these brothers and sisters of mine”. How faithful is Jesus to his promises, is what we discover in moments of prayer throughout the day or during a blessed time of retreat.

On any given day, you must have many problems, requests, things that go through your desk. What, if anything, keeps Cardinal Czerny up at night?

Something that can keep me up at night is the challenge of seeking to engage with truth in spite of the falsehoods that spread so rapidly in modern social media. A few of the falsehoods can be dangerous exaggerations of something good, but I think more of them arise from ill will. I don’t think it’s really possible to ignore this very new dimension of daily life and pretend that we can stick exclusively to the older forms of communication. Instead we need to develop new skills to navigate cyberspace and be effective while retaining equilibrium and serenity.

Here’s a traditional image, from the earliest times: A good angel on one shoulder and a bad one on the other, each trying to direct us. In fact, we humans are complex and mysterious, even to ourselves; capable of great ill, yet with God’s grace we can also achieve extraordinary good. Night-time is for sleeping, not worrying, but falling asleep one can pray that, tomorrow, I’ll be a bit kinder to others as together we strive to follow Christ in our hearts and in the world.

I could also say that the general condition of the world today is not encouraging. Rather than stay awake worrying, I hope people will use the occasion of the fifth anniversary of Laudato si’ and the inspiration of Querida Amazonia plus the Synod’s Final Document to discover how they can be effective agents of care of our common home during the day – and then sleep better at night!

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma


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