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Pascal Brice, Director of the Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA), speaking at the participants of the reflection week on migration in Taizè, France. (Amaya Valcárcel/Jesuit Refugee Service)

Taizé, 3 August 2017 - The ecumenical monastic community of Taizé in France organized a reflection week on migration between the 16th and 23rd of July. During the week, around 3,500 young people from different countries gathered there. Practitioners, academics, refugees, politicians, and young volunteers shared their perspectives and stimulated young people to reflect on their own concrete commitment to welcome and integrate migrants and refugees in their local contexts.

During one of the prayers, Brother Alois, Prior of the community, shared: “I am convinced that, without personal contacts with migrants, we will not find solutions. I hope deeply that the migrations in the world may foster a new solidarity between peoples. Does not our faith, as Christians, imply a special responsibility to promote such solidarity? And then we can make a discovery—and this is our own experience in Taizé—our faith, our trust in God is sustained and deepened through openness to others. For us brothers, openness to others, from whatever horizon they come, and trust in God are inseparable.”

The community of Taizé has for years hosted refugees from Vietnam, Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq, Syria, and, more recently, groups of young Sub-Saharans and Afghanis of Muslim background from the Calais dismantled camps. Some of them shared their experiences from their journeys and the reasons they fled.

A refugee from Northern Afghanistan explained that he had crossed 12 countries during three months of journeying by foot, train, boat, and bus. His village had been attacked by the Taliban and his family scattered. He is now working in a construction company and, amongst his works, has restored the Roman church in the village of Taizé. His hope and aspiration is to go back to his country and join his family.

Fr Michael Czerny SJ, from the Migrants and Refugees Section at the Vatican, shared greetings from Pope Francis and some of his words: “Is it normal for this sense of indifference to grow day by day? Is it normal for the Mediterranean to have become a cemetery? Is it normal that many, so many countries […] close their doors to these people who’ve been injured and are fleeing from hunger, from war, these exploited people who are seeking a bit of security…is it normal? That’s the question: Is it normal? And if it isn’t normal, I should get involved so that it doesn’t happen. This takes courage, dear friend, this takes courage.”

Members of the European Parliament from Poland, France, and Belgium explained the present political approach in Europe, and organisations such as Caritas, IOM, and the Christian Network of Migrants offered perspectives based on their own response. JRS was represented both locally - by members of the Welcome project in France - and internationally, and were part of workshops and roundtables. Marcela Villalobos, coordinator of the Welcome project in the Paris area, was accompanied by three asylum seekers from Libya, Guinea, and Egypt who spoke about their experiences.

Brother Alois challenged young people to go deeper: “Trust in God leads us to go towards others without fear and in a very concrete way, to see reality closely with all its complexity and to discern what is necessary. On the contrary, letting ourselves be guided by fear isolates us, and our vision of reality becomes abstract and blurred. We have to go deeper.”

- Amaya Valcárcel, International Advocacy Officer