PARIS — The French church has launched a program to combat anti-migrant and anti-Muslim attitudes amid reports of tensions among Catholics.
“It is to resist the rise of tensions and hostilities within the Christian community that our movements have decided to work” with the French bishops’ conference to find ways to “help Christians rise above these fears and face the migrant question calm and dispassionately,” said a June 7 statement on the conference’s website. It said the program is a response to papal appeals, requests from the bishops’ pastoral agency for migrants, as well as the church’s charitable agency, Caritas; Jesuit Relief Services; and Terre Solidaire, a French development nongovernmental organization.
“We salute the engagement of numerous Christians in welcoming and integrating migrants, and we encourage them to strive for a change of attitudes,” the statement said.
While survey findings show that most Catholics show a greater “closeness and solidarity” with Muslims and migrants than other French groups, they need to have their “fears and vulnerabilities” heard to enable them to “see others as a richness, not a threat,” it said.
“We will construct and recommend a set of tools, actions and messages” to promote a “culture of encounter, which is the precondition for building a just and fraternal society,” the church groups said.
“Those made fragile by poverty, hardship and cultural insecurity are not now in a position to offer a welcome,” they said, noting that one-third of practicing Catholics have a sense of “cultural insecurity, and believe Islam holds an ever more important position and influence.”
La Croix, the national Catholic daily, found in a survey that 61 percent of French Catholics oppose a “total closure of borders,” while the same proportion said they agree with Pope Francis’ appeals for hospitality to migrants.
More than half of French Catholics believe that their country has “no moral obligation” to accept migrants, with 22 percent considering Islam “incompatible with French society,” and 45 percent believing that foreigners receive “better welfare treatment” than native French, the survey found.
“While Catholics are highly divided, those with extreme views — favoring unconditional opening of the borders on one side, or the total closure on the other — represent minorities,” the church statement said.
“There is clearly a conflict of values, which is very human and understandable,” it said, noting that while “Catholics wish to be loyal to the Gospel spirit and calls by Pope Francis,” they also “fear the deep changes occurring in French society.”
The French bishops’ pastoral agency for migrants works with Christian communities to “humanize engagement with foreigners,” the statement said. It added that JRS helps defend the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers, and Caritas and Terre Solidaire are Catholic aid agencies.