A Vatican cardinal has backed a German abbess who is being prosecuted for sheltering refugees, exclaiming “God bless her!”.

– Mother Mechthild standing in “a long tradition of Christians living their faith to the final consequence”

Cardinal Michael Czerny, the undersecretary for migrants and refugees at the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, voiced his support for Mother Mechthild Thurmer, head of the Abbey of Maria Frieden in Kirchschletten, in Bavaria, who is facing charges of “aiding and abetting illegal residents”.

As CNS reports, speaking in a webinar on “Overcoming Indifference to Migrants and Refugees” on the occasion of the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons July 30, Czerny said Mother Mechthild, with her commitment to supporting the downtrodden whatever the cost, was standing in “a long tradition of Christians living their faith to the final consequence”.

There is no reason for that long tradition of Christian witness to be “refuted or broken”, Czerny added.

Mother Mechthild is facing the court proceedings after having given refuge on 30 occasions to women seeking asylum and after having refused to pay the fine habitually associated with such infractions.

The Benedictine nun has defended her actions, however, saying that “I acted out of Christian spirit; to give concrete help to a person in need can’t be a crime”.

– Migrants and refugees “not a danger to our economy, our society, our civilisation or our families”

At another point in last Thursday’s webinar, Cardinal Czerny criticised the media for “carping on” about “the global crisis” of migrants and refugees when the forcibly displaced are but a minority of those who move around countries every year.

“One of the major puzzles of our time is that the same society that people live in decently and cooperatively seems to tolerate this kind of distortion of reality”, Czerny added with respect to the media and political scapegoating of migrants and refugees.

“I think it has something to do with the very rapid evolution of media, to the point that we have lost our bearings in terms of what is true, what is plausible and what is believable.

“The more shocking, somehow the more credible. I don’t remember shock value ever being a valid criterion for truth. Yet it seems to be that the more outrageous, the more contrary sounding, the angrier – somehow the more credible. This is a problem for all of us, and I think it is really urgent to find a way through this”, the cardinal warned.

One part of the solution to the victimisation, Czerny suggested, is for people to listen to the personal stories of the displaced, with the result that then “the majority of people would realise that they are scapegoating this small number of people who are doing exactly what all of us would do if we were in the same circumstances”.

People who took the time to listen to the personal dramas of migrants and refugees would also understand that the exiled do not represent “a danger to our economy, our society, our civilisation or our families”, Czerny underlined.

One final point Czerny reflected on with regards to media treatment of migrants was that “paradoxically” the COVID-19 lockdowns helped many in the world to understand that our economies only work thanks to the contribution of migrant workers in essential services.

“Here in Italy, it was a real eye-opener for people to realise how many of these people there are, the kind of work they are doing, and the kind of situation they are living in”, Czerny recalled.

“I have a feeling that public opinion in Italy swung in favor of migrant workers in a remarkable way over these months. Whether this is having an effect on policy, I don’t know. This year of COVID-19, with its terrible toll of suffering and death, may also be looked back on as a year of revelation”, the cardinal mused.

More stories on Novena on the drama of migrants during COVID-19:

German abbess charged with “aiding and abetting illegal residents”: “To give concrete help to a person in need can’t be a crime”

Novena guest article: Selflessness of immigrants during COVID-19 forces UK media, public to rethink xenophobia

Vatican official backs as possible “win-win situation” the “mass regularisation” of ‘illegal’ immigrants

“Not a crime, but a right; not a problem, but an opportunity”: On migration, cardinal calls for “change in mentality” among Catholics


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