[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The rise of right-wing political movements across Europe is hampering efforts to provide a coherent approach to refugees across the European Union, two bishops have said. The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Robert Innes, and the suffragan Bishop in Europe, David Hamid, made their comments at the conclusion of a Diocese in Europe consultation on the refugee crisis jointly organised with USPG and the Anglican Alliance.
“We are living in a very difficult political situation. The politics are, at the moment, rallying against us,” Bishop Innes said. “Migration has hit the European Union in the wake of a deep financial crisis. Many people in Europe are suffering austerity; and a combination of serious conflict on our borders, together with austerity, has created an extremely difficult situation.
“There is a great deal of disillusion with the European Union which is leading to the growth of right-wing movements and the demand for strong leaders; which is, frankly, very dangerous. We have been there before. . .
“The failure of our politics is leading to massive distress amongst individuals whose stories have been told eloquently [at the consultation].”
Bishop Hamid emphasised this point, saying that Europe was suffering from “an epidemic of amnesia” in which the Church had a role to be the “bearer of memory . . . to remind the community of who we are, where we have been, and where we have come from.”
He said: “The collapse of our moral leadership in the EU states, in the face of the current movements of peoples that we experienced in the past couple of years, is incredible in light of what this very continent has experienced during and in the aftermath of World Wars. . .
“We know, living in Europe, that there is growing conservatism, nationalism and in some places a right-wing ascendency. It is all feeding and growing fear and xenophobia. In all of this the church’s role is to make sure the truth is told.”
He challenged churches to “gently to correct the narrative” and to challenge in preaching and teaching, “the growing toxic narrative around the world.”
But it wasn’t all bad news. He said that the diocese was in a unique position to develop the practice of “migrants helping migrants.”
He said: “I know there is some dispute about the use of that term, but we as Anglicans in Europe are largely – not exclusively, but largely – a migrant church. We are a diaspora. We are not in our homeland, most of us. We are not in the land of our birth.
“So we should have a natural set of gifts to be able to share with other Christians in these lands – charisms that go with being a migrant church.”
He recognised that the consultation was addressing the needs of people who “are not voluntary migrants” but said that the experience of church members who “had to find in the land they moved to” local knowledge, local values, language skills, networks of support, and ways that families could flourish were “gifts that we know and can share . . . migrant to migrant.”
He asked: “Can it be that God has planted us here as Anglicans on this western fringe of the Eurasian continent to, at this day, take up this particular missionary challenge?”
Bishop Innes said that the same point had been made to him recently by a senior alderman in Leipzig, Germany.
“He said ‘you have a particular gift to give to us in Leipzig because you are a community that has successfully settled here in the city. You know how to do it and we need you to show others how to do it.’
“I think that is a particular charism of our kind of diaspora communities.”
He said that he had been encouraged by the work that chaplaincies were doing across Europe: “We have more assets and talents than we might have supposed,” he said.
The Diocese in Europe’s Attaché for EU Affairs, David Fieldsend, echoed Bishop Innes’ comments, saying that he was “staggered by the extent of involvement and skills and careful thinking about the situation” that had been revealed by the consultation. “That gives me great optimism and hope for the future,” he said.
He described the church’s initial response as being that of first responders to a crisis. The consultation, he said, would help the Diocese in Europe and its chaplaincies in a transition from emergency response to long-term care.