“No Christian should have a negative attitude towards immigrants”, two Spanish-born African bishops have insisted.

Driving the news

Catholic prejudice towards foreigners and refugees “is not acceptable”, Cardinal Cristóbal López Romero, the archbishop of Rabat in Morocco, told SIR February 3.

“When one day we will appear before God, He will say to us: ‘Come to my right hand because I was a stranger and you welcomed me'”, the cardinal, given his red hat last October, recalled.

“I cannot say whether the borders should be totally open or not. I’m not suggesting regulations or limitations. That’s for politics to decide”, López explained.

“But our hearts must be open and Christians’ attitude towards migrants must not be one of contempt. Instead, they must embrace migrant people as brothers and sisters”.

Go deeper

“I would very much like my fellow European bishops to insist that Christians must have an open heart”, López continued.

He was reflecting on the ‘Mediterranean: frontier of peace’ event organised by the Italian Bishops to be held in Bari, with the presence of Pope Francis, from February 19-23.

That meeting will bring together bishops from 19 countries around the Mediterranean to tackle problems for the local Churches and society, with migration being perhaps foremost among them.

“The phenomenon of migration is universal. It’s everywhere and it will never end. It’s inherent in the history and life of humanity”, said López, reflecting on the “millions” of new arrivals “in Lebanon… in Jordan… in Turkey… in Latin America… in Africa” that don’t create the same fear of an “invasion” as in Europe.

Though migration will continue for the history of humanity, according to Cardinal López there’s one way to solve the “problem” of mass human displacement, really “a consequence of political, social and economic problems”.

“We have to press for the economic system to change”, the prelate continued.

“If the economic system continues the way it is today, migration will continue because if wealth fails to reach the poor, the poor will go where there is wealth”.

Why it matters

Given that the reality of immigrants is here to stay, populist and xenophobic politicians “have no right to shut the doors to people seeking hope of a new life”, López insisted.

“We can set conditions but the disposition must be one of welcome, protection, promotion and integration according to the 4 verbs that Pope Francis proposes”.

The cardinal also had harsh words for politicians like ultranationalist Matteo Salvini, the former Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister famous for brandishing rosaries and holy cards in political rallies.

“I would… tell them [politicians like Salvini] not to use the name of God”, the cardinal warned.

“If they want to pursue this form of politics it is in their right but not holding a rosary in their hands: it’s an instrumental use of religion for political purposes.

“They have no right to exploit the name of God, just as terrorists don’t”.

Referring to his idea that the Church hold a special Synod of Bishops on migrations, López said that such a meeting “would help not only the Church but the entire world to confront this phenomenon in a different way, thus obliging each and every person to seek new social and economic solutions that facilitate both the integration of people in their countries of origin and their movement to other countries”.

For the record

The other Spanish-African bishop to come out this week in defence of immigrants was Santiago Agrelo, Archbishop Emeritus of Tanger, also in Morocco.

Agrelo is well-known in Spain and in the north of Africa for his defence of refugees, but also for accusing notorious ultraconservative Pope Francis critic Cardinal Robert Sarah of living his Catholicism as an “outdated ideology” that does nothing but help people “feel safe and calm”.

“This man [Sarah] would like to go back to Mass in Latin, with his back to the people”, Agrelo denounced last October.

“What’s the advantage to this mentality?

“Being a Christian that way is easy. I go to Mass every Sunday, I go to heaven… I try not to end up in purgatory, and I can ignore my neighbour who hasn’t got a job, who’s sick…

“It’s a way of being Christian that a lot of people like… [but] I am convinced that the Gospel is otherwise”, declared Agrelo.

But this week, Agrelo got back to what he does best – defending migrants and refugees, this time in a press conference ahead of a talk in the headquarters of Church charity Caritas in the Spanish city of Burgos.

The Franciscan prelate denounced the existence of “a language that criminalizes” immigrants, relating them to the mafias or crime.

“These people are simply victims of the mafias”, Agrelo said instead, denouncing the prevailing “climate of rejection” that punishes immigrants, instead of treating them as “victims of inhuman injustices”.

Migration “is a responsibility for all of us”, contiued Agrelo, adding that “Africa has been a branch office of Europe, and it can’t go on like this”.

“We continue to be the ‘slavetraders’ we’ve always been, the owners of other people’s lives”, Agrelo deplored, denouncing at the same time the rise of the far-right, surging, he said, “like nobody’s business”.

Asked about the role that the Church should play in the issue of immigration, the archbishop emeritus of Tangeer said “I don’t want it to play any role”.

“I dream of a Church that has no political clout; as a community we have no other destiny in this world than to live the faith”, Agrelo concluded.

Next on Novena:

Italian bishop: Bari ‘Mediterranean Synod’ to transform “sea of death” into “welcoming haven”

Spanish-Moroccan cardinal calls for Synod on migration: “The Mediterranean cannot continue to be a frontier of death”

Sarajevo cardinal: “There is still no peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina”

Spanish bishop blasts Francis critic Cardinal Sarah for living “easy” Christianity

Eight quotes to know and share from new cardinal Cristóbal López


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.