Global Migration Conference

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Lecture Notes of  Archbishop Martin, Notre Dame London Centre, 14th October 2013




  “I am not quite sure why I should have been invited to give this public lecture this evening.  I am not a demographer or an expert on emigration questions.  While I did spend much of my life working in the area of international affairs, I have now been Archbishop of Dublin for over nine years and I have had little time at my disposal to be an armchair economist or a demographer.   My reflections this evening will be personal rather than scientific and may be disappointing in that I cannot propose many specific answers to the questions which the challenge of migration poses to our world which likes to call itself globalized but which so often is otherwise.


Many of my comments will reflect the Irish situation in which I live, in which the challenges of immigration and a more diverse society are at a very different stage to that here in Great Britain.  I come as much to learn as to lecture.  Ireland is undergoing a transition regarding migration.  We have high levels of emigration and also of immigration. We are at a stage when we can avoid the mistakes that were made elsewhere.  The challenge is that once mistakes are made they are often almost irreversible, and sadly on the other hand they are so often only noticed when it is too late.


Anyone who has even a minimal interest in international affairs or international development policy or indeed in international peace knows that global migration is certainly a key question in international reflection today.  It involves so many dimensions of international life – political and economical questions, traditional security and human security issues, local and regional and global concerns and of course religious diversity.  It also involves many strongly held ideas and high emotions.  It is thus enormously complex and controversial.  It is the focus of academic reflection and is one of the themes which can easily – and at no great cost – be manipulated for political reasons.  It is one of those themes which can be used to instil fear and anxiety.  Fear is a powerful factor in influencing popular attitudes, but it is not the healthiest motive for those interested in, as the title of your conference says, building a common life. Many of the terms we use when speaking of global migration can be understood in a variety of ways. They apply in different ways to different parts of the world and different situations.  Let me give you one example which touches my own country. 


 Most studies on global migration will discuss how emigration can give rise to a brain-drain in developing countries.  A recent year-long study of Irish emigration, however, found clear evidence that, with emigration levels now four times as high as they were just seven years ago, a disproportionate number of highly educated young people are leaving Ireland. In fact, 62% of recent young emigrants have a tertiary qualification of three years or more. The brain-drain is not limited to developing countries.  


As I said, many of the terms we use when speaking of global migration can be understood in a variety of ways.   We talk about tensions between immigrants and the indigenous population.   Yet the indigenous population of most Western Nation States is not homogenous.  Certainly we will all admit that the United States’ population mix is greatly the fruit of immigration and of a particular form of assimilation.  But the same can be said for most nation States if we go back far enough in history. They consist of people who emigrated or moved at various stages in history. Population movement is as old as the world. Many European States have within them diverse ethnical groups, at times with different languages.  Italy has been united for a little over 150 years and interestingly it has been shown that the most significant factor in the evolution of a common Italian language spoken right across the country, over and above the various dialects, was the much more recent introduction of national television.


The only illustration of pure ethnic identity is our common humanity and our very similar DNA.  It is important to remember that attempts to preserve ethnic purity as in Nazi Germany, or racial identity as in apartheid South Africa, or territories which were to be ethnically cleansed, were presented within a framework of science, but in fact were based on ideologies which were totally unscientific. Migration and changes in what is looked on as ethnic mix constitute open ground for pseudo-science and prejudice.  Hence, we see the importance in civil and political debate of generating clarity in all our concepts and focussing on facts. 


The Christian believer must always set out from a different concept: that of the God-given unity of the human family.  It is a concept based not on fear but on a sense of fundamental fraternity and solidarity.   It is a concept on which we can build dialogue with Islam and other great religions.  Just as with political society, religious leaders have to generate clarity in the use of their concepts.  They have to work together to unite on a clear understanding of common concepts, such as the unity of human family which springs from the recognition of God’s sovereignty.


The concept of a transcendent and sovereign God, a God who cares, loves and communicates that caring and love in the works of his creation, in the genius of humanity, in the unity of human family and in the integrity of all of creation, is the basis for such common language between faiths.    God is other.  Faith in a transcendent God is a faith, which, though not insensitive to the realities of the world, is not determined by them.  Faith in God should free the believer from closed ideologies and narrow prejudice in order to be a constant seeker for truth.   Faith in a transcendent God should lead the believer to realise than he or she has never attained truth in its fullness. The believer must be as much a doubter and questioner as one certain of his own certainties.   


The truth we must seek is a truth, which attempts to comprehensively explain our life as individuals and as a society.  Certainly, such a concept of truth can be exploited and be turned into totalitarianism and into fundamentalism. Where believers lack an integrated doctrine, political expediency rather than the integrity of God’s design tends to set standards of thought and action.  But it is important to remember that there can also be a fundamentalism of the relative and the workable, the agreed-on and compromise and the neutral, which can lead to arrogance and to an intolerance of those with deep-felt convictions.  Our society, which calls itself pluralist, can appear very intolerant to people of faith who have strong convictions.  Fundamentalism is not just religious. Reductionism of the significance of religion in society can often lead to new forms of secularist dogmatism. The certainty of faith and the certainty of the believer are different from scientific certainty.  When I say that the believer must be as much a doubter and a questioner as one certain of his own certainties, I am not advocating an anything-goes theory of religious adherence. I am talking about an attitude which can live with both certainty and doubt.    


 There is the paradox that in general those who are secure in their religious beliefs are those who contribute in a concrete way to the building up of the common good in diversity, while those who become insecure and feel threatened about their religious belief and identity are those who are most open to fundamentalism.  This has specific consequences in looking at the type of religious education which is most appropriate in a society marked by diversity. Catholic social thought links the concept of the unity of the human family with another principle of the social teaching, that of the universal destination of the goods of creation.  It is a complex title which tries to explain a simple principle. It stresses that God destined the earth and all it contains for all and for all peoples, so that created things could be shared fairly by all humankind, under the guidance of justice, tempered by charity.  This principle affirms that God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone.


The principle of the universal destination of the earth’s goods is quite developed and elaborated in Catholic social thought.   From the principle of the universal destination of created goods there emerges a universal right to use the goods of the earth. Each person should have access to the level of well-being necessary for his or her full development. The right to the common use of goods has been described by Pope John Paul in his Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis as “the characteristic principle of Christian social doctrine”.  Pope Paul VI in his earlier Encyclical Populorum Progessio had stressed that: “All other rights, whatever they are, including property rights and the right of free trade must be subordinated to this norm [the universal destination of goods]; they must not hinder it, but must rather expedite its application. It must be considered a serious and urgent social obligation to refer these rights to their original purpose”.


The universal destination and utilization of goods is not a naive affirmation that everything is at the disposal of everyone or anyone.  It means rather that there is a social mortgage on all property.  Property is never simply private, withdrawn from social responsibility.  It applies especially today to intellectual property.  It applies to freedom of movement of goods and services but also to the movement of the talents and the aspirations of people.  The affirmation that everyone is born with the right to use the goods of the earth can only flourish, however, if it exists within a juridical order on a national and international level. Catholic social teaching is quite elaborate on this principle, but its application remains very much on the intellectual level, especially when applied to migration.  The same can be said of society in general.  There is no single UN organization with an overall vision on migration policy.  The fact is that cooperation on an international level is only at its beginning and is highly fragmented.  It is easier to build international cooperation that is repressive and restrictive than to generate broad reflection on the issues.  International law sets out some dimensions of a framework for common action.  It involves refugee law, humanitarian law, demographic and even maritime law.  As in many aspects of today’s world, global realities exist, but the instruments that we possess for governing these global realities is still lacking.  Even within such an integrated body as the European Union there are major differences of opinion and policy on migration.   The legal instruments which set out to govern global realities are most often negotiated by people paid to defend national interest. The construction of a common life cannot be determined just by norms and legislation alone but must be the fruit of human interaction.  It must be the fruit not just of institution but of witness.  It must look at concrete realities and respond within concrete communities.  It must not just be about structures but about attitudes. 


The Church, according to the definition of the Second Vatican Council, is a sign of the unity in Christ of all peoples.  It greatest contribution to the building of common life in society is precisely in being witness to that calling.  The first thing then that the Church and the Churches are called to do is to ask themselves how far and how radically they witness at world level and especially at local level to being a sign of the unity of different peoples. 


Anyone speaking about migration and a common life in these days cannot but look at the recent tragic events at Lampedusa, where hundreds of lives have been lost when, as Pope Francis said on his visit to Lampedusa earlier this year, “so many died at sea, in boats which were vehicles of hope and became vehicles of death”. Pope Francis, in trying to articulate the responsibility for what happened, went beyond the language of international legal reflection to the more humanistic language of the bible.  He went back to the very narrative of creation, in which the biblical author attempts to present an explanation of the roots of sin and division in human life.    The Pope took up two phrases in that creation narrative and based his reflection on them.  Let us look at the reflection of Pope Francis.”Adam, where are you?” 


“This”, the Pope said, “is the first question which God asks man after his sin.  Adam lost his bearings, his place in creation; because he thought he could be powerful, able to control everything, to be God. Harmony was lost; man erred and this error occurs over and over again also in relationships with others, when ‘the other’ is no longer a brother or sister to be loved, but simply someone who disturbs my life and my comfort”.


“The second question”, the Pope asks, “is: “Cain, where is your brother?” The illusion of being powerful, of being as great as God, even of being God himself, leads to a whole series of errors, to a chain of death, even to the spilling of a brother’s blood!”


Pope Francis notes that when the sense of the sovereignty and the transcendence of God is lost, then human relations run the risk of breaking down.  This is not just a theological principle which many would say cannot become the basis of common action between believers and non-believers. The non-believer will reject any idea which asserts that only religious faith can underpin the unity of the human family and indeed will point to religions as being responsible for disunity and division.  Pope Francis however directs his reflection especially at believers.  He reminds us that in facing the challenge of the common life, God addresses in the first place not institutions but each of us.  Institutions will always reflect the sentiments of society and the sentiments of society will only be changed by the witness and commitment of individuals, and the creation of a genuinely participatory society.   The Pope stresses that the question “Where is your brother?” is not a question directed to others; it is a question directed, to each of us: “These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace; they were looking for a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found death. How often do such people fail to find understanding, fail to find acceptance, fail to find solidarity”.


We live in a world, which is marked so many signs of our inter-relatedness.  Pope Benedict described today’s world as being marked by “an explosion of worldwide interdependence.  The problem is that the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interaction of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development.  Pope Francis speaks often about “the globalization of indifference”.  It would be interesting for us to examine what are the mechanisms which would create an opposing globalization – the opposite of indifference – a globalization of care and concern, of support and solidarity. That change requires roots and requires men and women who witness in their lives to what is most fundamental about life.  It requires courage and vision.  Politics may be the “art of the possible”.  That does not mean that is simply the realm of pure compromise.  It requires also men and women who are uncompromising in reaching out towards the ideal and that truth which can comprehensively explain our lives.   In such a vision of the unity of the human family an appropriate framework within which to realistically develop both legislation and public policy on such an explosive issue as immigration?  Is it realistic simply to affirm a right to emigrate and yet not have international norms about the management of immigration?  Is migration just a safety valve to ensure that there can be a temporary cheap workforce? 


Pope Francis’ visit to Lampedusa was not greeted favourably by all.  One US media commentator expressed his horror that Pope Francis was blessing illegal immigrants. Ideals must be confronted by realities.  The boats from which so many lives were lost at Lampedusa were vehicles of hope which became vehicles of death, but they were also vehicles of trafficking and exploitation and extortion.   Reflection on international migration must be concrete in addressing its objectives. It must be attentive to see that our noble ideals do not end leaving the weak being exploited by the unscrupulous.


International reflection on migration must address the question of the trafficking and exploitation which takes place at the expense of men and women and children who are at their most vulnerable moments.   It must look at the unscrupulous mechanisms which exploit the needs and the hopes of those who seek security and a better world.  It must look at the roads of exploitation which people pay to travel on before they board the boats of further exploitation.   It must address the exploitation of immigrant workers on their arrival, when they are denied the same rights enjoyed by nationals, rights which should be guaranteed to all without discrimination.  Immigrants fill a labour need which would otherwise remain unfilled where the local workforce is insufficient or unwilling to engage in the work in question.   They remain however human beings who contribute to society by their work and whose work and worth entitle them to rights and security for themselves and their families.


Much of your work and reflection is dedicated to the question of how to integrate and welcome immigrants from different cultures and of religious adherence within already existing communities. At times, as I said earlier, you are faced with pathologies which exist and which could have been prevented.  You often have to foster hospitality and common life together in a climate which is not the most propitious.  I have stated earlier that there are very few nation states which are populated by a single cultural and ethnic group.  But the nation state is in reality an important cultural unit.  It is the fundamental place in which institutional support and solidarity are built, through taxation and social services. 


I am not what some call a “post national visionary” or idealist.  I am well aware that the so-called international community can turn out for many to be a “non entity”.  A passport marked “international community” will get you nowhere.  Political stability and economic progress pass through nation states, though no individual State can exist in isolation.    There is ample literature today, which asks how widespread immigration can affect the cohesion of the nation state.  The answers vary and the data available is not univocal in its conclusions.  One of the most challenging things is to avoid the building up of ghettoes in which large numbers of immigrants live in enclaves and have little contract with others.  It is natural for immigrants to want to live closely with people of their own culture.  Migrants will look to live in areas where the cost of housing is affordable.  Very often local authorities’ housing policies contribute to the formation of ghettoes.  Neither multiculturalism nor integration will be achieved if people live in closed communities, especially if these communities are marked by frustration and a sense of marginalization. In Ireland, we have witnessed in recent year a unique wave of immigration into a country where immigration had very little tradition.  


In the diocese of Dublin there are today over 70,000 Catholic Polish immigrants who came in recent years to a country where traditionally – the Polish ambassador told me – there were 300 Polish citizens.  There are also large communities of Lithuanians, Rumanians, Nigerians and many others. In addressing the pastoral needs of these immigrant communities, I was faced with the option of encouraging the immigrants to take part in the life of their local parish or to establish a specific pastoral ministry for each immigrant group, with the possible result of creating religious ghettoes.   In the end I opted for a little bit of each, as an interim approach, hoping that the school system would lead to a greater integration in the coming generations. 


The question of religious education is a vital one for the Ireland of the future.  Our school system in Ireland is particular in that until recently practically all primary schools, and many secondary schools, were under denominational religious patronage and ownership.  This is often presented as example of Catholic dominance of the educational system in Ireland but in fact it is an unintended fruit of history.  The national school system introduced in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century aimed at having a system of state schools for all, but with separate religious education within the school.  Some protestant authorities rightly saw that this system might effectively leave them as a permanent minority in every school.  They withdrew from the system, leaving the majority of schools demographically catholic and with the passage of time they became institutionally catholic. I believe – and I have said so publicly – that in a country like Ireland there is a public interest in supporting and defending independent protestant schools in order to allow the particular role of the protestant communities in Irish society to flourish.  These separate schools have in fact lead to an enrichment of Irish society through allowing the specific contribution to society of the protestant communities to emerge.


Today, I find myself in the position of personally being patron of almost 90% of primary schools in the Dublin area.  These schools are institutionally catholic schools but are with the passage of time becoming demographically less so, and thus their precise ethos is less clear.  There is, thank God, a growing pluralism today in patronage of schools in Ireland but the vast majority of the population attends a school that is Catholic.   Is the dominance of a religious ethos in schools, which are publicly financed, still appropriate today?  Is it open to accusations of sectarianism? Is the teaching of denominational religion within a public school appropriate?  These are questions, which are debated right across Europe.  Obviously, the situation and the cultural heritage of each country will be different and I am not proposing an Irish answer to the challenges of other countries.   I believe that denominational education has a place within a pluralist society but for that to work it requires that those in leadership in both religious education and education of other inspiration have to change attitudes and be mutually respectful and open to dialogue. I fear religious fundamentalism and indoctrination.  I also fear a State, which feels that a pluralist society must be monochrome and neutral and cannot be built around a plurality of visions.  


Religious education has moved a long way from simply repetition of catechism formulae without any discussion on the reasonableness of religious belief.   I do not believe that a simple course in the history and the sociology of religion will do justice to what religious education is about.  For religious education and religious culture to bring value to a pluralist society it must be sustained in its originality.  This is not to say that there are not non-negotiables concerning religious activity within the norms of a pluralist and democratic society. However, freedom of religion is also one of the pillars of a rights based society. 


 I said at the beginning of these reflections that I was not quite sure why I had been invited to deliver this public lecture, also as one who comes from a very different cultural environment to that which you encounter.  The challenges which I have to meet are different to yours, but we all share a similar challenge of helping to construct, beginning at the level of local communities, a society where people of different faiths and cultures can come to know each other better and to respect each other and realise what we have in common.  What we have in common is our common humanity, but that humanity exists only in cultural expressions.  Our common humanity cannot therefore be witnessed to through imposed uniformity and pallid political correctness, but only in rejoicing in the difference and diversity with which God wished to endow creation.  ENDS