Hatred against irregular immigrants is a worrying phenomenon and tackling it has become “a pastoral urgency” for the Church, according to Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna.

But addressing the problem went beyond statements of condemnation by the bishops, Mgr Scicluna said, reacting to criticism that the Church’s silence on the plight of African migrants was deafening.

The Sunday Times of Malta columnist Fr Joe Borg wrote that the silence of the bishops “risks putting water on the xenophobic grindstone of many”, adding the Church’s absence on the issue made him “sad”.

This requires a long process of education

These sentiments were reflected in another column by Lino Spiteri yesterday, who urged the bishops to speak out about immigration and “the growing tendency” to view the topic in racist terms.

Mgr Scicluna said he respected the columnists’ views and appreciated their criticism.

“I agree with Fr Joe Borg that there is a pastoral urgency to address this matter because when I see God’s people, either out of fear or panic, resort to hatred it worries me a lot.”

However, he added the Church could not rely on a strategy that simply reacted to the happenings through statements and he would be speaking about the matter with parish priests in the next meeting.

“The Church has to have a profound pastoral strategy that aims for true evangelisation,” he added.

Comparing the situation to the rivalry exhibited in what are supposed to be Christian feasts, Mgr Scicluna said these were cultural issues that could not be solved overnight or through a statement.

“It is a big challenge,” he said, adding that the test of faith came in moments of difficulty. “This issue [immigration] shows that we have much more to do on this level.”

It is a feeling shared by Gozo Bishop Mario Grech, who recalled at least two homilies he delivered where the plight of immigrants featured prominently.

The latest was a homily for the feast of St Peter and St Paul in June, before the most recent events unfolded that had upped the anti-immigration ante.

Mgr Grech had said Malta could not remain “indifferent in front of these people escaping from hell”, while urging the EU to show tangible support.

“We can never say enough,” Mgr Grech said when contacted yesterday as he expressed concern at the hatred spewed by many on social media. This requires a long process of education, he added.

But the Gozitan Church has started addressing the issue with the creation of a commission headed by Fr Emanuel Cordina. Mgr Grech said he tasked the commission to give him “an X-ray” of the situation regarding irregular migrants in Gozo and to develop a pastoral response so that the Church could address their needs.

Attitudes towards irregular migrants and asylum seekers hardened this summer as Government talked tough on the issue.

At one point a group of rescued Somalis were also threatened with being flown back to Libya, the same day they were rescued by the Armed Forces of Malta.

The bishops had at the time issued a brief statement urging the Government to safeguard the dignity of all those who arrived in Malta.


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