Posts Tagged ‘nation’

Where Irreligious Trends Lead After Decades

By Edward Pentin

ROME, JAN. 12, 2012 (Zenit.org).- To see how disturbing a secularist and increasingly irreligious society can become, one need only look to Sweden.

Abortion has been free on demand and available without parental consent in the country since 1975, resulting in the Nordic nation having the highest teenage abortion rate in Europe (22.5 per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 in 2009).

Swedish law does not in any way recognize the right to conscientious objection for health care workers (last year, the Swedish parliament overwhelmingly passed an order instructing Swedish politicians to fight against the rights of doctors to refuse to participate in abortion).

Meanwhile, sex education is graphic and compulsory, beginning at the age of six, and children from kindergarten age are taught cross-dressing and that whatever feels good sexually is OK. The age of consent is 15.

“We have so many violations of human dignity on so many levels, and so many problems when it comes to social engineering,” explained Johan Lundell, secretary-general of the Swedish pro-life group Ja till Livet. “This has been going on for the past 70 years.”

Lundell was a guest of ours recently at the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (Institute for Human Dignity) where he laid out a catalogue of offenses against human dignity in Swedish society. “We have the highest teenage abortion rate in Europe. Why? Because we say abortion is a human right, it doesn’t kill anything, just takes away a pregnancy,” he said. “And after 20 years of this, young people don’t care any more. Why should they? For 10 to 15 years no one has even said abortion should be legal but rare.”

Its sex education program, seen by some social liberals as groundbreaking but others as far too explicit, has been given by some as the principal reason for a low teenage pregnancy rate. But the high number of abortions among that age group are rarely discussed, nor are the figures disclosed. “No one talks about child abortions,” said Lundell. “They’re ashamed of them. Yet we’re the only country in Europe where there’s abortion on demand, there are no formal procedures, no parental consent, no informed consent.”

Nor are the number of rapes in Sweden widely known or advertised. Yet according to Lundell, over the past 50 years — during this era of loose sexual mores — they have risen by “1,000 percent.”

Lundell further noted that all other countries want to reduce the number of abortions, yet despite having 550 different government departments in Sweden, none has a mission to lower the number of terminations. “Children can see this is wrong, parents can see it’s wrong, and as a society we don’t want it and yet no one talks about it,” Lundell added. “It’s absurd.”

He said that Sweden should “definitely” be taken as a warning to other countries pursuing secularist, socially liberal policies “because then you can see what the agenda is for people, and how the European Union and the United Nations are copying these Scandinavian ideas.”

Returning to the subject of sex education, Lundell said Swedes generally don’t bother any more trying to argue that homosexuality is genetic– a common argument used to promote the same-sex agenda — because the movement is now so fully accepted that it no longer needs this argument as a support. “In sex education books, they don’t talk about someone being heterosexual or homosexual — there are no such things because for them everyone is homosexual,” he said.

Lundell referred to a brochure for children published by same-sex associations, and printed with the help of financing by the state. “They write positively about all kinds of sexuality, every kind, even the most depraved sexual acts, and it goes into all schools,” he explained. “The information is put on Web sites, and school children are told about the Web sites so they can see it.” Teachers, he said, are encouraged to ask students “What turns you on?” yet Lundell pointed out that if the chief executive of a company asked that at a business meeting, he’d be fired. “It would be sexual harassment,” he said. “And yet you train people to do this to children?”

Some parents have made formal complaints, branding it as carnal knowledge, too candid for the classroom and labeling the lessons as “vulgar” and “too advanced.” But the majority acquiesce to the curriculum, while the option to homeschool children is almost forbidden.

Yet to many outsiders, Sweden’s popular image is of a fair, ordered, just and harmonious society — the model example of a functioning welfare state. In many cases this is true if one looks at infant mortality rates, life expectancy, standard of health care and access to education. The level of poverty is also relatively low.

“It’s long been said that if it is not possible to bring about a socialist world in Sweden, then it’s not possible anywhere,” said Lundell. “That’s why some have tried to make it into a socialist paradise. But unlike in, say, Italy or Greece, in Sweden it’s not about the socialism of finances but rather the socialism of families — social engineering, which has been much more visible here than in southern Europe.”

Per Bylund, a Swedish fellow at the Von Mises Institute, once described the all encompassing power of the state thus: “A significant difference between my generation and the preceding one is that most of us were not raised by our parents at all. We were raised by the authorities in state daycare centers from the time of infancy; then pushed on to public schools, public high schools, and public universities; and later to employment in the public sector and more education via the powerful labor unions and their educational associations. The state is ever-present and is to many the only means of survival — and its welfare benefits the only possible way to gain independence.”

Yet this social engineering has had dire consequences. Few European countries have witnessed such a rapid decline in the institution of marriage, nor such an expeditious rise in abortion. During the 1950s and first half of the 1960s, the marriage rate in Sweden was historically at its peak. Suddenly, the rate started dropping so quickly that it saw a decrease of about 50% in less than 10 years. No other country experienced such a rapid change.

Between 2000 and 2010, when the rest of Europe was showing signs of a reduction in annual abortion rates, the Swedish government says the rate increased from 30,980 to 37,693. The proportion of repeat abortions rose from 38.1% to 40.4% — the highest level ever — while the number of women having at least four previous abortions increased from 521 to approximately 750.

With the exception of a few stalwart campaigners such as Lundell, most Swedish Christians — and particularly Christian politicians — remain silent in the face of the countless social violations against human dignity. Little resistance is also given to attacks on religious freedom for Christians, with priority increasingly being given to Sharia law.

Judging by the figures, it could almost be said the faith has packed up altogether. At the end of 2009, 71.3% of Swedes belonged to the Lutheran Church of Sweden — a number that has been decreasing by about one percentage point a year for the last two decades. Of them, only around 2% regularly attend Sunday services. Indeed, some studies have found Swedes to be one of the least religious people in the world and a country with one of the highest numbers of atheists. According to different studies carried out in the early 2000s, between 46% and 85% of Swedes do not believe in God.

Lundell said that although small, the Catholic Church has a good bishop and is helped by immigrants from Poland and Latin America. But Catholics are generally seen as outsiders with little influence and they are wary of overtly campaigning or being seen as “too tough,” he said. Even Pentecostals are reticent to raise objections. “They are probably the only Pentecostal church in the world that doesn’t,” he added.

But despite all this, Lundell, whose organization is attracting a growing number of young people, remains hopeful — and he remains ultimately loyal to his home country. “I’m so proud of Sweden I can’t imagine moving away,” he said. “But I am ashamed of the politics when it comes to the family, sexual politics and restrictions on freedom of religion.”

“Whole parts of society aren’t Sweden any more,” he added. “So we will fight, and we will do so with more eagerness than ever.”

Edward Pentin is a freelance journalist and Communications Director at the Dignitatis Humanae Institute. He can be reached at epentin@zenit.org.

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“The Church Must Feel Concerned Regarding Immigrants”

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of an address given by Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, at the annual meeting of European national directors for the pastoral care of migrants, held in Sibiu, Romania, from Sept. 3 to 4.

* * *

Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

Annual Meeting of European National Directors for the Pastoral Care of Migrants
(Sibiu, Sept. 3-4, 2007)

Migration, an opportunity for the ecumene

Cardinal Renato Raffaele MARTINO
President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

Recently, a book entitled “Globus. Per una teoria storico-universale dello spazio” (Globus. Toward a historical-universal theory of space), a translation from German, was published in Italy. In this volume, the author, Franz Rosenzweig, makes a rapid but well-studied, original and significant reconstruction of the whole world history. The first part of the publication is entitled “Ecumene,” seen from the point of view of relationships between earthly forces that push toward the unification of the world.

“If millennia were needed for us to acquire theoretical awareness of the spherical form of the earth,” the author affirms, “we cannot be surprised by how slow world history walks toward unity of the globe. Yet, God created only one sky and one earth. Ecumenism is the final goal of humankind’s journey,” a sign of which is migration, indeed an opportunity for the ecumene.

Today, in fact, migration is one of the most important and most complex challenges of our modern world. Consequently, social transformation, caused by welcoming immigrants, is discussed in public hearings, such that the question of “migration” appears as one of the top issues in the international agenda.

The migration phenomenon is therefore analyzed in relation to development. Migrants’ contribution to the labor market is studied, leading to the conclusion that they are important for world economy. A witness to this is the First Global Forum on Migration and Development, recently held in Brussels, last July 9-11.

In spite of this, however, many governments are adopting more restrictive measures to counter immigration, especially if irregular. Researchers on the migration phenomenon, on their part, are for the opening of frontiers, not simply to solve contingent problems, but to situate the process in a global scenario. Migration has indeed become a structural phenomenon. This does not mean, however, that a vision of a “total” and “indiscriminate” freedom to immigrate is being adopted. It is rather the task of governments to regulate the magnitude and the form of migration flows. They should, however, take common good into consideration, so that immigrants would be worthily welcomed, and the population of the receiving countries would not be put in a condition that would lead them to reject the newcomers. This would have unfavorable consequences both for immigrants and the local population, as well as for relations between peoples. Naturally national common good must be considered in the context of universal common good. This brings us back to that vision of the “ecumene” that I mentioned at the beginning of my talk.

Our task, however, is that of identifying facts and aspects of migration that would help us understand the value of the phenomenon itself. This will enable us to interpret this “sign of the times”[1] from a Christian perspective, and to offer our pastoral service to the world of human mobility in its totality, in its universality. And for you, this is true for Europe.

There has always been solicitude on the part of the Church for migration — we have to take note of this.[2] Involvement in various forms confirms its ability to interpret this rapidly changing reality. Active ecclesial commitment, especially at a pastoral level, naturally includes socio-humanitarian action so that the foreigner would be accepted and integrated in society, through an itinerary leading to authentic communion, where there is due respect for diversity. It is however necessary to remember that rights and duties come together, also for migrants.

Regarding respect for the fundamental rights of the human person, hence also of those who are involved in human mobility, the Church is continuously dedicated to this at various levels and in different areas. Specific initiatives, messages of the Holy Father, action to build awareness among international entities and governments of migrants’ countries of origin, transit and destination, define the Church’s “strategy.” This is based on the central position and “sacredness” of the human person[3], to be upheld particularly when he/she is unprotected or marginalized. This “brings to light certain important theological and pastoral findings that have been acquired. These are: […] the defense of the rights of migrants, both men and women, and their children; [the question of the migrant family]; the ecclesial and missionary dimension of migration; the reappraisal of the apostolate of the laity; the value of cultures in the work of evangelization; the protection and appreciation of minority groups in the Church; the importance of dialogue both inside and outside the Church; and the specific contribution of emigration to world peace” (EMCC No. 27). In all this, we can clearly see a basis for an ecumenical commitment.

Indeed the recent position of the Holy See regarding migration shows that attention is given to the continuous transformation of the phenomenon of human mobility and to the current exigencies of people in contemporary society. This is because it wants “to respond to the new spiritual and pastoral needs of migrants” bearing in mind “the ecumenical aspect of the phenomenon, owing to the presence among migrants of Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church, and also the interreligious aspect, owing to the increasing number of migrants of other religions, in particular Muslims” (EMCC No. 3)[4]. We cannot ignore the fact that “recent times have witnessed a growing increase in the presence of immigrants of other religions in traditionally Christian countries” (EMCC No. 59). The great diversity of immigrants’ cultural and religious origin poses new challenges and leads toward new goals, putting dialogue at the heart of pastoral care in the world of migration. After all, it certainly is part of the mission of the Church.

The instruction “Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi” carefully proposes programs that are appropriate for the various phases in the life of the migrant. It distinguishes “between assistance in a general sense (a first, short-term welcome), true welcome in the full sense (longer-term projects) and integration (an aim to be pursued constantly over a long period and in the true sense of the word)” (No. 42). In this case, it is important to give a sensible direction to an issue of great significance. I am referring to the difficult concept of integration, and its even more difficult application, keeping in mind also its ecumenical and interreligious aspects, particularly in societies hosting migrants. This concept is being seriously analyzed. We refuse to see it as a process of assimilation, but stress the aspect of cultural meeting and legitimate exchange. We are practically insisting on a concept of intercultural societies, meaning those that are capable of interacting and producing mutual enrichment, going beyond multiculturalism, that can be contented with a mere juxtaposition of cultures[5].

This gradual itinerary — as I was saying — provides, first of all, for “assistance or ‘first welcome’” (EMCC No. 43), but this is not enough to express the authentic vocation to Christian agape, also because it might be confused with philanthropy.

As a result, our instruction offers a wider horizon, providing for “acts of welcome in its full sense, which aim at the progressive integration and self-sufficiency of the immigrant” (ibid.). Here, too, we cannot fail to consider the ecumenical and interreligious dimensions.

In his Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees this year, Benedict XVI stated that the Church, through its various institutions and associations, “has opened centers where migrants are listened to, houses where they are welcomed, offices for services offered to persons and families, with other initiatives set up to respond to the growing needs in this field”.[6]

Also through these services in the context of human mobility, the Church offers its assistance to everyone, without distinction of religion or nationality, respecting everyone’s inalienable dignity as a human person, created in the image of God and redeemed by the blood of Christ.

In assisting migrants, therefore, it is possible to deepen ecumenical dialogue since contact with those among them who belong to other Churches or ecclesial communities gives “new possibilities of living ecumenical fraternity in practical day-to-day life and of achieving greater reciprocal understanding between Churches and ecclesial communities, something far from facile irenicism or proselytism” (EMCC No. 56). In fact, when migrants arrive in a place with a Catholic majority, the first meeting point should be hospitality and solidarity, within the context of “an authentic culture of welcome (cf. EEu 101 and 103) capable of accepting the truly human values of the immigrants over and above any difficulties caused by living together with persons who are different (cf. EEu 85, 112 and PaG 65)” (EMCC No. 39).

Therefore “the entire Church in the host country must feel concerned and engaged regarding immigrants. This means that local Churches must rethink pastoral care, programming it [ … appropriately for] today’s new multicultural and plurireligious context. With the help of social and pastoral workers, the local population should be made aware of the complex problems of migration and the need to oppose baseless suspicions and offensive prejudices against foreigners” (EMCC No. 41).

However, ecumenical dialogue does not stop there. It could also take the form of a specifically ecumenical cooperation, whereby resources are pooled and a common Christian witness is given (cf. Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, No. 162). Indeed the different Churches and ecclesial communities are particularly intent on welcoming and accompanying all migrants, in the pastoral sense, especially when alongside the flow of regular migrants, there are irregular migrants who are a cause for concern and are usually and unjustly blamed for crimes. Also, there are unscrupulous evildoers, who speculate on the tragic situation of people and promote the trafficking of human beings. Their presence increases xenophobia and at times provokes manifestations of racism (cf. EMCC nos. 29 e 41). All this can make the ecumenical commitment in favor of migrants more difficult.

The Church is called upon to open a dialogue with everyone, but this “dialogue should be conducted and implemented in the conviction that the Church is the ordinary means of salvation and that she alone possesses the fullness of the means of salvation” (EMCC 59). At the same time, migrants of other religions “should be helped insofar as possible to preserve a transcendent view of life” (ibid.).

There are surely some values in common between the Christian faith and other beliefs, but it is necessary to take into consideration the fact that “beside these points of agreement there are, however, also divergences, some of which have to do with legitimate acquisitions of modern life and thought” (EMCC No. 66). On the part of the migrant, therefore, the first step to take toward the host society is to respect the laws and the values on which that society is founded, including religious ones. If this is not done, then integration would just be an empty word.

The Church is also called to live fully its own identity, without renouncing to give witness to its own faith, also in view of respectfully proclaiming it (cf. EMCC No. 9). Thus, dialogue with others “requires Catholic communities receiving immigrants to appreciate their own identity even more, prove their loyalty to Christ, know the contents of the faith well, rediscover their missionary calling and thus commit themselves to bear witness for Jesus the Lord and his gospel. This is the necessary prerequisite for the correct attitude of sincere dialogue, open and respectful of all but at the same time neither naïve nor ill-equipped” (EMCC No. 60).[7]

Finally, it is necessary to take into account the important principle of reciprocity[8], “understood not merely as an attitude for making claims but as a relationship based on mutual respect and on justice in juridical and religious matters. Reciprocity is also an attitude of heart and spirit that enables us to live together everywhere with equal rights and duties. Healthy reciprocity will urge each one to become an ‘advocate’ for the rights of minorities when his or her own religious community is in the majority. In this respect we should also recall the numerous Christian migrants in lands where the majority of the population is not Christian and where the right to religious freedom is severely restricted or repressed” (EMCC No. 64).

It remains true, however, that solidarity, cooperation, international interdependence and the equitable distribution of the goods of the earth show the need to operate also in ecumenical communion, or rather, with a vision of “ecumene” in the broad sense of the term. This has to be done in depth and forcefully, especially in the areas where migration flows originate, so that the inequalities that induce people, individually or collectively, to leave their own natural and cultural environment would be overcome (cf. EMCC nos. 4; 8-9; 39-43). On its part, the Church will not stop encouraging everyone, but particularly the members of Christian communities, to be authentically available and open to others, including migrants, as it affirms that “notwithstanding the repeated failures of human projects, noble as they may have been, Christians, roused by the phenomenon of mobility, [should] become aware of their call to be always and repeatedly a sign of fraternity and communion in the world, by respecting differences and practicing solidarity, in their ethics of meeting others” (EMCC No. 102).

To conclude, we have to acknowledge that migration is a process in constant evolution. It will continue to be present in the development of societies and will bring us more and more into an intercultural world, where legitimate diversity will be lived also in the context of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

— — —

[1] Cf. Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2006: http://www.vaticaNo.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/migration/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_200510 18_world-migrants-day_eNo.html; A. Marchetto, “Le migrazioni: segno dei tempi”, in Pontificio Consiglio della Pastorale per i Migranti e gli Itineranti (ed.), La sollecitudine della Chiesa verso i migranti, (Quaderni Universitari, Comments to the First Part of Erga Migrantes Caritas Christ — henceforth EMCC), Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 2005, pp. 28-40.

[2] Pius XII’s prophetic intuition regarding the pastoral care of migrants is present in the Apostolic Constitution Exsul Familia (AAS XLIV [1952] 649-704), considered the magna carta of the Church’s teaching on migration. Paul VI, in continuity with and as an application of the teaching of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, later issued the “motu proprio” Pastoralis migratorum cura (AAS LXI [1969] 601-603), promulgating the Instruction of the Congregation for Bishops De Pastorali migratorum cura (AAS LXI [1969] 614-643). In 1978, the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migration and Tourism published a Circular Letter addressed to the Episcopal Conferences, entitled Church and Human Mobility (AAS LXX [1978] 357-378): see EMCC nos. 19-33 and Pontificio Consiglio della Pastorale per i Migranti e gli Itineranti (ed.), La sollecitudine della Chiesa verso i migranti, op. cit. Cf. also A. Marchetto, “Chiesa conciliare e pastorale di accoglienza”: People on the Move XXXVIII (102, 2006), pp. 131-145.

[3] See the Pontifical Message for the World Day of Peace 2007, “The human person, the heart of peace”: http://www.vaticaNo.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/peace/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20061208_xl-world-day-peace_en.html.

[4] In 2004, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People published the Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi: AAS XCVI (2004), 762-822 (see also People on the Move XXXVI, 95, 2004, and website: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/migrants/documents/rc_pc_ migrants_doc_20040514_erga-migrantes-caritas-christi_eNo.html). Cf. comments on this Instruction by highly competent authors in People on the Move XXXVII (98, 2005), pp. 23-125, particularly on ecumenism and interreligious dialogue: pp. 45-63.

[5] Issues related to this important chapter of the pastoral care of human mobility were studied more in-depth and then published in Pontificio Consiglio della Pastorale per i Migranti e gli Itineranti (ed.), Migranti e pastorale d’accoglienza (Quaderni Universitari, Comments to the Second Part of EMCC), Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 2006.

[6] Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2007: http://www.vaticaNo.va/ holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/peace/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20061208_xl-world-day-peace_en.html.

[7] Cf. Proceedings of the XVII Plenary Session of our Pontifical Council, held from May 15 to 17, 2006, on the theme “Migration and Itinerancy from and toward Islamic majority countries”: People on the Move XXXVIII (101 Suppl., 2006). Specifically regarding interreligious dialogue, see pp. 187-224. Particularly important is No. 11 of the conclusions and recommendations: “It was also deemed vital to distinguish between what the receiving societies can and cannot tolerate in Islamic culture, what can be respected or shared with regard to followers of other religions (see EMCC 65 and 66), and to have the possibility of giving indications in this regard also to policymakers, toward a proper formulation of civil legislation, with due respect for each one’s competence”: ibid., p. 74.

[8] Also Benedict XVI mentioned this in his address to the participants in the aforementioned XVII Plenary Session: loc. cit., p. 5.



Pope Calls for Greater Solidarity

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JULY 1, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The number of refugees rose in 2006 for the first time since 2002, according to data published June 19 by the United Nations. The information came in the “2006 Global Trends” report, from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The report was issued for the occasion of World Refugee Day, marked by the United Nations on June 20. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, former prime minister of Portugal António Guterres, commented that numbers are continuing to grow in 2007.

Guterres, in an interview published by the Reuters news agency June 20, explained that the increase in refugee numbers last year to 9.9 million was due to a combination of crises in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“I have very grave concerns about the way things are moving ahead for refugees in many parts of the world,” said Guterres. Moreover, he added, in many cases the international community does not have the capacity to help them.

A look at the report quickly reveals that the figure of 10 million is only a part of the problem. The introduction explains that the report only covers populations for which UNHCR has a mandate, leaving out, for example, groups such as the estimated 4.3 million Palestinian refugees who fall under the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

In fact, the report speaks of no less than 32.9 million people who are termed as forming the group of “persons of concern to UNHCR in 2006.” This is a sharp increase on the numbers in 2005, when this group was calculated at 21 million.

The most important cause of the notable rise last year was an increase in the numbers of internally displaced persons. As of the end of 2006, a total of 12.8 million internally displaced persons were receiving humanitarian assistance in some form through the UNHCR. Countries with large numbers of these persons include Colombia, Iraq, Lebanon and Sri Lanka.

The report also explained that there was a significant increase in the number of stateless persons, calculated to be 5.8 million in 2006 compared to 2.4 million in 2005. Even this larger number, however, does not fully reflect the magnitude of the phenomenon of statelessness, according to the report. The UNHCR noted that many stateless people have not been properly identified and that statistical data on the numbers of these people is not yet available in many cases.

Turnaround in numbers

In the case of the estimated 9.9 million refugees by the end of last year, the report noted that from 2002 numbers had declined, reaching a low of 8.7 million at the start of 2006. One of the main factors in the increase during 2006 was the exodus of 1.2 million Iraqis, who fled their country for refuge in Jordan and Syria.

The picture for last year was not all negative. The UNHCR reported that large reductions in refugee numbers took place in some African regions, mainly due to successful voluntary repatriations to Liberia and Angola. There was also a reduction of almost 100,000 refugees in Germany, and some 37,000 refugees in Serbia obtained citizenship.

When it comes to countries that are host to large numbers of refugees, Pakistan is in first place, followed by Iran. Together the two nations house around 20% of the total number. Even though during 2006 an estimated 387,000 Afghans returned to their country, the official numbers of refugees in Pakistan and Iran barely changed, as most of those returning home had not been part of the officially registered refugee population.

Other countries that support large numbers of refugees include the United States, with an estimated 844,000 refugees in 2006. Syria had 702,000 refugees and Germany 605,000. Last year Jordan moved into the top 10 asylum countries, hosting an estimated 500,000 Iraqi refugees.

In terms of the country of origin of refugees Afghanistan continued to be in first place, with around 2.1 million by the end of 2006, spread among no less than 71 countries. Iraq was the second largest source, with 1.5 million. Sudan followed, with 686,000 of its nationals outside the country. Three other countries, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi accounted for just over 1.2 million refugees.

During 2006 some 734,000 refugees repatriated voluntarily, one-third less than in 2005, which had a total of 1.1 million returnees. An estimated 11.6 million refugees have returned home over the past 10 years, according to the report.

In addition, a total of 71,700 refugees were admitted by 15 resettlement countries last year. The leading nation was the United States, which accepted 41,300 refugees, followed by Australia — 13,400 — and Canada — 10,700. The overall total of those resettled was 11% below the 2005 number. Some refugees were also able to receive citizenship in the country that had originally accepted them, for example, 98,500 in the United States.

Showing evangelical love

The U.N.’s World Refugee Day on June 20 coincided with one of the regular Wednesday papal audiences. At the end of his address Benedict XVI referred to the refugee question and called for hospitality toward refugees in the name of human solidarity.

From a Christian perspective, the Pontiff continued, making refugees welcome is a way we can show our evangelical love. “I wish with all my heart that our brothers and sisters who suffer will be guaranteed exile and the recognition of their rights, and I invite the leaders of all nations to offer protection to those who find themselves in need,” the Pope concluded.

The Church also dedicates a day to commemorating refugees and also migrants in general. The Pope’s message for this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees, marked on Jan. 14, focused on the situation of families.

The Holy Family of Nazareth, the Pontiff commented, was forced to flee to Egypt shortly after the birth of Jesus. Their experience can help us understand the painful difficulties of all migrants, but especially the experience of refugees, he added.

The value of the family needs to be recognized for those who are migrants and refugees, Benedict XVI insisted in his message. In addition to its advocacy on behalf of migrants, the Church also offers its aid through a number of charitable institutions and centers.

The Pope mentioned the plight of refugees who suffer great problems in maintaining their families intact, or in unifying their members after being separated. In addition, he continued, refugees also have sometimes undergone trauma or emotional stress, and the living conditions in the camps where they are placed are often difficult. Benedict XVI also commented that women and children refugees face the additional risk of sexual exploitation.

“Aside from giving assistance capable of healing the wounds of the heart, pastoral care should also offer the support of the Christian community, able to restore the culture of respect and have the true value of love found again,” the Pope recommended. “Everything must also be done to guarantee the rights and dignity of the families and to assure them housing facilities according to their needs,” he added.

As well, the Pope recommended that refugees cultivate “an open and positive attitude toward their receiving society and maintain an active willingness to accept offers to participate in building together an integrated community that would be a ‘common household’ for all.” A community called upon to accept ever-growing numbers of migrants and refugees.