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Theological and ethical explorations on the study "Mapping Migration--Mapping Churches' Responses. Europe study".

The study "Mapping Migration--Mapping Churches' Responses", commissioned by the World Council of Churches and published in 2008, is based on research conducted by the Churches' Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) and the Nova Research Centre in Gloucester, UK. The aim--providing factual data and analytical resources for the migration realities on the European continent--has been nourished both by the awareness of the disparity of available migration figures across the European countries and by the World Council of Churches' newly formulated priority to pay a close attention to changes in the ecclesial landscape that are generated by global migration movements.

Besides providing information on actual immigration and emigration figures in separate profiles for 47 European countries, the study seeks to offer clarity on the terminology and modes of migration and to identify the diversity of Christian presence in Europe, which is often significantly marked by migrant Christians. The first four chapters of the survey are dedicated to analyzing the phenomenology of migration. They describe recent migration developments and new forms of migration, discuss critically the terminology surrounding forced or voluntary movement of people and show how migration and migrants are perceived in the media and how this perception informs a widely generalized view on migration as being mainly problematic. Last but not least, they portray how migration patterns have changed in recent years, transforming the composition of societies and churches.

Regarding this latter aspect, two chapters are devoted to reflecting on theological approaches to migration and on how local churches and regional church bodies are responding to migration in Europe. As, until now, churches have regarded migration primarily as a social ethical issue that calls upon the church's responsibility for justice and human dignity, the new focus, which is mirrored in the new priorities of ecumenical work, deserves a more thorough investigation. The study not only stimulates further and more detailed research in the field of migration realities, but also inspires the churches to perceive migration as a topic of theological relevance that touches the contemporary ecclesial identity of the local and universal church in an unprecedented manner.

Inasmuch as it remains important that churches and related agencies pursue their commitment for uprooted people and advocate for the respect of their rights and dignity, it will be valuable to intertwine this engagement with a theological reflection on the significance of diverse Christian expressions and its impact on the unity of the Church. The study offers five distinctive yet interrelated indications of how such a theological and ethical reflection can be pursued and intensified.

Describing Migration in Europe

Who is a migrant? The United Nations (UN) defines a migrant as a person who resides outside of his or her usual country of residence for more than one year (5). This definition is problematic for two reasons: first, standards across European countries are elusive, as until now no uniform understanding of a classification for migrants has been reached; second, this definition does not identify how long individuals need to stay in a country before they are no longer considered migrants. Often, people who have been officially naturalized continue to be perceived as foreign and labelled as "migrant", which poses challenges for their integration into society and for their acceptance by the host population. The rampant confusion between the terms "migrant", "refugee" and "undocumented migrant" is another area that needs clarification, as this confusion is closely related to misconceptions about migration that are not in line with factual migration data. That these terms are critically reviewed in this study not only provides formal and technical accuracy, but also offers instructive insights into the complex reality of migration in Europe and underlines the need for a differentiated, descriptive approach in order to render justice to the issue and the people concerned.

The study also draws attention to transnational migration (9) as a more recent phenomenon, blurring the classical distinction between sending, receiving and transit countries and highlighting the mobility and flexibility of an increased number of migrants having temporary or multiple residences in more than one country. This pattern of migration gives rise to "transnational communities", characterized by economic, cultural and religious networks across borders. Among these, the foundation of transnational church communities can be noted. Are these migrant churches, churches for migrants or churches with a "migrant background" destined to reach out to larger sections of the local population? What impact does this practice have on ecumenical relationships? The arrival of such transnational church communities may radicalize the need to engage in a fresh ecumenical debate on how a diversity of Christian expressions, and claims of truth, can be lived while maintaining the vision of being united in Christ.

Contemporary Migration Patterns in Europe

Mapping Migration: Mapping Churches' Responses also contributes to correcting an inaccurate popular view in the current debate that migration in Europe is a result of people moving there primarily from Asia and Africa (14). The figures show that the main migration movements occur between the countries of the European Union (EU). Migration has been a constant feature in the history of Europe. The total number of migrants in all European countries is estimated at around 64 million people in 2005 (14). Whereas the picture for Western Europe is one of relative stability, Eastern European countries are far more complex and have greater fluctuations in migration. According to the study, despite regional and temporal variations, it is predicted that migration across Europe will continue to increase significantly (15).

Against this background, and in light of new forms of migration - such as circular (cyclical) migration, irregular migration and forced migration (in cases of human trafficking)--concerted policy and advocacy responses must gain more attention. Within European countries, the management of migration is still widely perceived as a duty to restrict migration and to understand migration as security policy with the augmentation of border controls, surveillance and visa restrictions for third-country nationals. The study highlights the need to further promote a common, rights-based EU migration policy that incorporates successful migration management experiences, as is the case with internal EU migration, which recognizes the contribution of migrants to transformed European societies (19). In this context, the religious factor may still be an aspect that is underestimated in the public opinion.

Theological Approaches to Migration

The study furthermore explores the theological relevance of migration and underlines that the theme is not a recent phenomenon, nor is it limited to the European continent. Migration was a common experience in the Old and New Testaments. The history of the Israelites is traced back to the narrative of journeying and emigration. Among the several possible terms for "foreigners", the Old Testament language uses gerim to designate those sojourners or strangers, who were expected to keep the Sabbath (Ex. 20:10), could be employed (Deut. 29:11) and, most importantly, were to be protected from abuse (Lev. 19:33-34), thus benefiting from the extension of Israelite communal and societal rights in commemoration of the Israelites' own experience of exile (Lev. 19:33-34). The study concedes that the experience of being a stranger and sojourner in ancient Israel has no direct link with the contemporary situation of migrants in Europe. It is, however, interesting to observe how migrants, especially from non-European contexts, relate to the biblical narratives and to the stories of exile as a motif and source of comfort in their own migration journeys.

Arguably, a direct transfer of biblical experiences into ethical directives and policy measures is even less possible, but such an approach offers revealing insights into the manner in which the relation and attitude to the "other" is grounded in the belief in God--an attention and considerateness that is expected and continued in the New Testament (John 1:11; parables). Jesus' personal experience of otherness, again a motif frequently encountered in the personal stories and sermons of migrant Christians, can be relevant to a deeper theological reflection on what migration means for Christian existence and for the church. In this perspective, not only caring for and giving attention to others may be important; on another level, the existence of the church as a community of strangers and sojourners in this world is also important. The study hints at both the ethical and theological dimensions that need to be further explored, as the spiritual experiences of migrants are lived in churches expressing the diversity of Christianity--a diversity that is based on the message of Pentecost and is not lived to the detriment of the communion between the churches.

It is against such an experience of mutual Christian recognition amid the diversity of language, culture and spiritual expression that sensitivity for the situation of the other, solidarity and action for the protection of the vulnerable, and concern for the common humanity arise.

Churches Responding to Migration and Migrants in Europe

Churches have based their pastoral care for migrants on the ministry of Christ and his compassion and attention for the vulnerable. One of the undeniable values of a Christian church is to express and provide loving care to those exposed to threats and uncertainty; thus, specialized ministries of the churches have taken responsibility in the area of protection of migrants. But what can be said about the link between religious affiliation and the attitude towards migration? Do churchgoing and Christian faith in any way influence personal relations towards migrants? The study offers interesting data and explanation in this respect, showing that the likelihood of concern about the condition of migrants increases with the frequency of church attendance. It may be inaccurate to extrapolate to the actual responses of people from these findings, but they nevertheless show a raised sensitivity, especially in the realm of a religiously motivated action for migrants.

Another asset of the study is that it offers a complementary insight into the different experiences of faith: the role of religion in migrants' lives and in the varieties of Christian migrant expressions as articulated in migrant church communities. In particular, the intertwining of social and ethical responsibilities, mainly on the side of the host churches, and the theological and ecclesiological challenges posed to both migrant and local churches constitute the merit of this chapter. The important yet difficult question of how the Christian vision of unity can be safeguarded, promoted and filled with life is discussed in the context of different ecclesial models tested in local congregations and church communities as they seek to complement the social-ethical mandate with a praxis pietatis that recognizes differences and at the same time allows for common experiences of faith.

The study will help churches and the wider society to deal with the challenges of modern global migration in a more comprehensive way. It offers the accurate data and narrative on the realities needed to counter politically motivated distortions and inappropriate media coverage and it inspires especially the churches to reflect more intensively on their role beyond the ethical demands of their mandate with regard to migration.

DOI: 10.1111/j.1758-6623.2009.00038.x

Mapping Migration: Mapping Churches' Responses. Europe Study, edited by Darrell Jackson and Alessia Passarelli (CCME, Brussels, 2008), is available in English. A print version can be requested from the CCME secretariat and a version is available for download from the CCME website (www.ccme.be) and from the WCC website (www.oikoumene.org).
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Title Annotation:Ecumenical Chronicle
Publication:The Ecumenical Review
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Dec 1, 2009
Words:1877
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