His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew referred to the duty of every Christian to love and care for his neighbour in his speech at the Global Forum on Refugees, organised in Geneva by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency) and the Swiss Government, from Wednesday 13 December, until Friday, 15 December 2023.
“As a Christian, to love our neighbour is not a preference, recommendation, nor even an option, but it is a command,” the Ecumenical Patriarch stressed at the beginning of his speech, pointing out that everyone should pay attention not to the symptom, that is, the displacement of peoples, but to the many root causes of the problem, which include, as he said, war, disease, lack of clean water and food, climate change and economic inequality, which are turning entire continents into a deserted place of death and forcing peoples to migrate.
The Patriarch stressed that, to a greater or lesser extent, everyone contributed to causing these migratory crises, and that they have benefited at the expense of others who suffer.
“We have seen the reflection of a society that only consumes and leaves behind her not only physical rubble but the ruins of the human soul. Unfortunately, we continue to debase life, to blind ourselves from the truth. Unless we drastically change, unless we end the illegal transfer of weapons, the trafficking of peoples, the promotion of biological warfare, crimes against humanity, and all form of abuses of the incarnate image of God, the human being.”
He recalled the joint visit they made with His Holiness Pope Francis of Rome and His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece to Lesvos in 2016, where they met with war refugees, but also the meeting he had with refugees from Ukraine in 2022, on the border of Poland with the war-torn country. He also referred to his family and friends, his compatriots from his homeland, Imbros, who were scattered in 1964 in all corners of the world after forced displacement.
Concluding his speech, the Ecumenical Patriarch called on everyone to help make the voices of the refugees heard and to stand as protectors and helpers of our fellow humans who are suffering from injustice.
“So let us look beyond the terminology, refugees-immigrants –asylum seekers – internally displaced peoples. Let us look beyond the colour of their skin, the creed or faith they adhere to; and let us see the eyes of God’s human creation, transforming these crises to an opportunity for building bridges, for practicing solidarity, for changing hearts.”
Read below the speech of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
“A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples…” (John 13:34-35)
Your Excellency, The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees,
Esteemed participants of the “Global Refugee Forum,”
As a Christian, to love our neighbour is not a preference, recommendation, nor even an option, but it is a command. We make this humble address today to draw attention to the continuous needless loss of our brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings, the other, the refugee.
We must call to attention not the symptom, that is the displacement of peoples, but the root causes, and they are many. War, disease, lack of clean water and food, climate change, and economic disparity, all of them continue to make nations and whole continents into wastelands of death and forced migrations.
A refugee is a person who has come to our door in seek of refuge, but do we ask: “Why my brothers and sisters have you left your homes? The places you were born in, grew in, played and learned in? Why do you leave behind all that you first loved and all that first loved you?” And should a refugee succeed to escape from their personal hell, what is our response? What are our promises and guarantees?
For we all know that, in a large or a small way, all the same, we have caused these crises, we have benefited at the expense of others suffering. We have seen the reflection of a society that only consumes and leaves behind her not only physical rubble, but the ruins of the human soul. Unfortunately, we continue to debase life, to blind ourselves from the truth. Unless we drastically change, unless we end the illegal transfer of weapons, the trafficking of peoples, the promotion of biological warfare, crimes against humanity, and all form of abuses of the incarnate image of God, the human being.
We have been on Lesvos in 2016, along with our brothers His Holiness Pope Francis and His Beatitude Archbishop Hieronymos of Athens, and touched the hands of and shared common meal with those who fled war and risked their lives at sea. We have been to the boarders of Ukraine and Poland, in 2022, and looked into the eyes of those who have seen war and destruction. We have seen our own families and friends, our compatriots from our home-island of Imvros, scattered in 1964 to all the corners of the earth after forced displacement. And yet we come to this beautiful city of Geneva, surrounded by her white snowcaps, her quite forests and her picturesque lake Léman, forcing each of us to reflect on the peace that nature offers. We have traveled from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Martyric Church of Constantinople, to call on all of you: let not the voice of our brother go unheard, let not our answer to God in the face of injustice be, that we were not our “brother’s keeper.”
Therefore, let us look beyond the terminology, refugees-migrants-asylum seekers-internally displaced peoples; let us look beyond the colour of their skin, the creed or faith they adhere to; and let us see the eyes of God’s human creation, transforming these crises to an opportunity for building bridges, for practicing solidarity, for changing hearts.
Thank you for your kind attention!