Message by Archbishop Charles Scicluna
Thank you for this extraordinary experience of listening to you Danielle [Vella] and you Daniel [Jude Okoeguale] for sharing your experiences. After reading pages of the book I found it gripping but also very moving. And I find that we need to share these narratives, because we need to make statistics alive. And thank you very much Daniel for your witness because you are not a number, you are a brother.
As you know we live in a very special place at the heart of the Mediterranean in this blue sea that for Pope Francis has become a blue cemetery for so many of our brothers and sisters. We have a collective responsibility as we look towards Europe, which we form part of, but also look towards Libya and its shores.
I am always intrigued by one of the ancient interpretations of the name of Malta – malat from the Phoenician root. Our country is named as a haven. The Greeks turned it into the land of honey from miele, but the Carthaginian-Phoenician root of the name of our country is ‘a safe haven’. Even when we talk about our Christian faith, we offered a safe haven to 276 people who were shipwrecked on our shores. One of them was a prisoner and he brought Christ to us. Such a huge heritage from a person shipwrecked on our shores. So many of us are related to men and women who went away from Malta seeking a new future, not because of persecution but because of economic hardship. I was born in Canada because my father had emigrated there and then brought mama to Canada. I was born in Canada because of that. I am a child of migrants in a far away country.
If we look at the situation in Libya, the propaganda machines are trying to persuade us that it is a safe place. In recent weeks there seems to be an unwritten policy that we should send people back to Libya. And Daniel is a living narrative, giving witness to so many attempts. This I think needs to force us to make the proper questions: are we really satisfied with what we do? At times it seems that we don’t have enough resources to face the gargantuan task of saving people in emergency situations in a huge search and rescue area, because the space allotted to Malta is huge and also needs the cooperation of other people. I think that we cannot simply forget that international law demands that we save people who are in dangerous situations – most of these men and women are. We usually denigrate NGOs and rescue ships and remind them that they have a pull factor, and I also think that we need to insist that Europe will take this issue seriously.
I don’t blame the frustration we all feel when we are left on our own, and on a European level we are also frustrated by a lack of solidarity with Malta and with other countries that are border countries. But that doesn’t mean that we have any right to ignore the plea of people at sea, who clamour, who really want our help. So we have a right to expect the solidarity of other people but we cannot, not show solidarity with our brothers and sisters at sea.
There seems to be an unwritten agreement – whether it is written or not but it has not been published – that Italy and Malta are trying to help the Libyan coastguards, even in the search and rescue areas which are not under Libyan control to intervene and push back people. I think this is something that needs to be tackled on the frontier.
I also think that the detention centre in Ħal Far has to be revisited. We have to give hope to these people. We need to ensure that they are under humane living conditions. It’s anecdotal because of this heat, that because of the heat that we are experiencing people prefer to sleep outside and not in their containers that we call homes. We need to face these situations which knock on our hearts. I know that politicans are under great pressure. I think we also need to work on the subtle or not so subtle xenophobia that we are faced with on social media. This is the challenge, a challenge for our Christian roots and our Christian life.
I would like to thank you Danielle for bringing us here because of this extraordinary book you have written, to remind us of these questions. We don’t have any easy answers but we need to keep asking these questions: is this right? Is this the right policy? Are we doing the right thing? Is this the right way to treat human beings? Because one of the things that struck me when reading pages of the book is that people suffer from “man’s inhumanity to man”, and if I believe in the wounds of Jesus Christ, they are gaping wounds, and I have to face them and be moved by my brothers and sisters.
So the narrative we share is a narrative of radical solidarity, and we who are living today in 2021 are challenged to live this mystery of solidarity of the Word of God made man today. Today He is there in Ħal Far, he is early in the morning at Marsa looking for work. He is Jesus Christ.
And so some people may prefer to have Jesus Christ in a beautiful wooden or golden or silver statue but it would be madness to ignore him present on the boats in the Mediterranean, to ignore Jesus Christ at Ħal Far, at Lyster Barracks, at the Marsa roundabout; those people are also Jesus Christ. And the word He will tell us is: ‘I was a refugee and you welcomed me’. After all, Joseph and Mary and Jesus knew what it was to be a refugee. They had to flee Herod when Jesus was still a baby and so that is the word that he will ask us and we will tell him ‘Where?’… ‘Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did unto me.’
✠ Charles Jude Scicluna
Arċisqof ta’ Malta