The Spanish migrant rescue ship Open Arms

Bishop of Vitoria offers help on Med refugee crisis: “It’s inhumane to look the other way”

The Bishop of Vitoria in Spain, Juan Carlos Elizalde, has offered the help of his diocese in the resettlement of 134 refugees stranded on a rescue ship in the Mediterranean.

Driving the news

“Everyone must be taken care of and accompanied in difficult moments like the present”, Elizalde said in a statement Wednesday.

The bishop added his voice to the chorus of support for the migrants trapped on the Spanish rescue ship Open Arms, which for two weeks has been blocked by Italy from docking in that country’s ports.

The Open Arms finally entered Italian waters Thursday after a Rome court overturned the block imposed by Italy’s far-right Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced yesterday that France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg had agreed to take in the refugees.

But despite the agreement, as of Friday morning Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is holding firm in his refusal to allow the Open Arms to dock.

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The big picture

The statement of the Vitoria diocese denounced the “lack of initiative” European governments had shown on the Open Arms crisis.

Elizalde affirmed that “all people deserve to be taken care of, regardless of their origin or circumstances”, and lamented the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.

“It’s inhuman to look the other way”, the bishop said.

Elizalde, who is also a member of the migrations commission of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, added that “the Church is fully aware of the work of the Open Arms volunteers and professionals and thanks them for helping and supporting immigrants and refugees”.

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What’s next

“Every life counts”, affirmed Elizalde in the press release.

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The bishop denounced the “abandonment” of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean and said the “lack of response” from governments to the crisis “violates international agreements regarding aid”.

He quoted words of Pope Francis, who said in his message for this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees that “our response to the challenges posed by contemporary migration can be summed up in four verbs: welcome, protect, promote and integrate”.

“Loving our neighbour might not be easy, but we Catholics should give ourselves to others without distinctions”, Elizalde added.

According to reports, some of the Open Arms migrants destined for Spain will be welcomed by the Diocese of Vitoria in parishes and church charities in the province of Álava, in Spain’s Basque Country.

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.