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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N° 83, September 2000


Jubilee Charter of Rights of Displaced People[*]

Alessandro IAPIN0

“A shameful wound of our time”: That is how John Paul II in 1982 defined the dramatic reality of some fifty million displaced people and refugees spread throughout the world.

Thursday afternoon, in the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier of the Caravita in the center of Rome, an important meeting took place for the Jubilee of Refugees and Displaced People, which belongs to the wider context of the Jubilee of Migrants and Itinerant People.

The event was the occasion to present a document of great urgency and interest, the Jubilee Charter of Rights of Displaced People. Inspired by the 1992 document of the Holy See, Refugees: A Challenge to Solidarity, as well as articles of the 1951 Geneva Convention, the Charter was the fruit of a collaboration of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), CIR (the Italian Council for Refugees), Migrantes (Italian Episcopal Conference), and the Italian section of the JRS Jesuit Refugee Service).

 The Jubilee Charter was read, or rather proclaimed, at the end of the meeting by a group composed of persons, all involved in one way or another, but directly, in the reality in question: witnesses, refugees, displaced people, and pastoral and humanitarian workers belonging to various organizations and associations.

The document does not wish to announce new principles but reaffirms those fundamental rights that are often not recognized or ignored. It intends to put before the world the most important challenges that have to be faced at the beginning of the Third Millennium for the protection and the wellbeing of more than fifty million persons who are forced to live outside their own fatherlands or normal places of residence.

The meeting, presided over by the Bishop Lino Bortolo Belotti, Auxiliary of Bergamo, proceeded as an in-depth reflection on the theme of “reconciliation”, enriched by a series of well done talks and dramatic testimonies of refugees.

"We are here especially to celebrate the jubilee", said the moderator of the event, Fr. Giulio Albanese, Director of the Catholic News Agency MISNA. "This is one of the missionary moments par excellence of the Great jubilee, of this Holy Year in which Rome is presented as a window open on the world. The jubilee asks us to be people of charity, persons able to be neighbors to one another, especially towards these brothers that come from the south of the world" The problematic of reconciliation, in the difficult context of displaced people and refugees, was dealt with from the point of view of the international community in the intervention of the Delegate of the UNHCR for Italy, Ms. Ana Liria Franch. A political and institutional perspective was offered by the Secretary of the House Commission for Constitutional Affairs, the Honorable Domenico Maselli.

Significant was the talk of Dr. Mohamed Mzoughi, professor of Islamic philosophy at PISAI (The Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies), who explained the meaning of reconciliation for Muslims, citing, among other things, a verse of the Koran (V, 82), “which for more than a thousand four hundred years has borne witness to the magnificent cordiality reserved by Christians for the Muslim community: 'Among Christians you will find the most secure friends. This happens in so far as among Christians there are priests and monks who serve God in humility, and pride does not reign among those who follow Jesus”.

The most moving moments of the meeting were undoubtedly the dramatic testimonies narrated in the first person by some refugees. “To live the experience of war is like looking at death in the mirror”, said Willy, a 19 year old who comes from Congo Brazzaville. “I mourn for the times in which we perhaps did not have fresh bread to eat every day, but love and solidarity reigned in our houses. I am living today like a bird that flies without knowing if and where it will find a tree where it can rest".

Marie Thérèse is a young mother from Rwanda: “You cannot imagine the fear of a mother who takes her children and escapes with them, not knowing where to take them and get them something to eat”. “It is prayer”, she confided, “that gives you the strength to go forward. The rosary I had with me helped me to not go crazy with sorrow when I had to be separated from my sons. We pray for the refugees of the whole world so that they have the right to live, to construct and dream of a future as all people do”.

The final synthesis of the meeting was offered by the International Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, Fr. Mark Raper, who affirmed: “The motto of the Jubilee, what we read on the vests of all the volunteers, says: 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me'. This motto lets us understand how displaced people are at the center of this Holy Year; they exhort us to open not our wallets but our hearts".

Bishop Lino Bortolo Belotti concluded the day of the Jubilee of Refugees and Displaced People in this way: “Reconciliation is a path that lasts a lifetime”, he said. “It is becoming aware of the other, who has his necessities but above all his riches. Reconciliation is also a way of competing in solidarity, each one in his community and in his credo. What is required of us when a foreigner and brother comes to us is especially and above all a change of heart”.

At the end Bishop Belotti imparted his blessing, together with Bishop-Emeritus Giuseppe Casale of Foggia on all those present in the Church, among whom was the notable presence, for the entire length of the event, of the former President of the Constitutional Court of Italy, Prof. Giovanni Conso.

[*]Translation of Proclamata la "Carta Giubilare dei Diritti dei Profughi", L'Osservatore Romano, 2-3 giugno 2000.