Society must deal with the issues of race, class, religion, and language that are framing the debate about migrants, and the Church should play a much bigger role, said one leading academic this week as the new Centre for Catholic Social Thought and Practice launched.
Joshua Ralston, Lecturer in Muslim-Christian Relations at Edinburgh University and speaking at Monday’s launch of the new Centre for Catholic Social Thought and Practice, was one of a high-profile panel responding to the migration crisis that Sarah Teather, Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK and former MP and Minister, called “the defining issue of our time”.
The Centre – which exists to bring the thought and practice of the Catholic social tradition into closer conversation, and bring Catholic social teaching into new places – opened in central London, linking academics, charities, religious orders and social movements from across the UK. The Centre’s Chair, Dr Anna Rowlands, of Durham University, emphasised the importance of the ecumenical, and of engaging churches with the real practical and theoretical issues together.
Throughout the afternoon, representatives from international and domestic charities, top performing universities, and the media engaged with difficult questions – both theoretical and practical – surrounding the migration crisis and the Church’s responses. These included the law, ethics, public policy, and personal and group resources, tools and capacity. The aim of the day was to engage people with a variety of views on immigration as part of a genuine ‘common good’ conversation.
At a well-attended evening panel Zrinka Bralo, Chief Executive of Migrants Organise, asked why society accuses asylum seekers for being ‘on the take’ when the system creates dependency as a matter of policy. Jonathon Cox, Deputy Director of Citizens UK, challenged the churches to build long-term capacity and relationships that take away fear, especially in the context of planned resettlement policies.
Dr Maria-Teresa Gil Bazo, Senior Lecturer in Law at Newcastle University, suggested the Church could learn to communicate more effectively with policy-makers and be more transparent about who does what in order to build more alliances. Dr Mark Provera of Jesuit Refugee Services Europe, drew parallels to the Australian refugee policies, and challenged the Church to put forward a vision to policy-makers based on the inviolable dignity of each person.
The launch of the Centre is complemented by 'spoke' events which will happen around the country. Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham all have events planned in the coming months. The newly launched website - ccstp.org.uk - will carry content where a wider cross-disciplinary audience can engage with the conversation.