How is religion an obstacle to communication

"For many refugees, religion is the starting point for communication"

Basel, April 8th, 2017 ( The Eritrean-Italian priest Mussie Zerai told on Thursday in the Reformed Münster community of Basel about his commitment to refugees in distress at sea. He spoke in a panel discussion about the possible engagement of Christians for refugees in Switzerland. Representatives of four aid organizations from Basel discussed on the podium.

Boris Burkhardt

For Mussie Zerai, religion is part of human dignity. He emphasized that this is a starting point for communication, especially for young people: «We must not prevent them from practicing their faith; but we have to help them get to know other religions in order to accept the realities in Switzerland. "

The Scalabrinian Father Zerai, who came to Rome from Eritrea in 1992 at the age of 16 and successfully applied for asylum there, founded the non-profit organization “Agenzia Habeshia per la Cooperazione allo Sviluppo” in 2006, which helps refugees in distress at sea. Since 2011 he has been working as a pastor for Catholic Eritreans in Switzerland in Erlinsbach, Solothurn.

Social attention

In an interview with the Basel minster pastor Caroline Schröder Field, he pointed out that refugees in Switzerland above all need social attention: they find it difficult to contact the locals without help. "We have to give them a place, in the neighborhood, in society: Isolation harms tolerance and promotes prejudice," said Zerai, whose statements were simultaneously translated from Italian by community member Arnold Binder.

In no way should one underestimate the trauma that refugees from East Africa received first in the desert and then on the sea: "These are people who have a lot of pain in them." "

"Africa is not poor"

In Eritrea, Europe is perceived primarily as a continent of human and other rights, said Zerai in response to Schröder Fields question: “A paradise that has a lot of money, where peace reigns and where people are respected. After 25 years I can say that this is not the case. "

On the other hand, hunger, war and dictatorship are in the foreground in the European image of Eritrea, his impression is: “But it is important to differentiate: Africa is not poor. It has been made poor. " The industrialized nations and the global market as well as their own governments in Africa are responsible for this.

Faith as a bridge or an obstacle?

«There are good people who are not believers; and there are believers who do evil. " - That was the most succinct sentence of the panel discussion “Strangers seek home” with four Basel aid organizations, in the context of which the conversation with Mussie Zerai also took place. Presenter Caroline Schröder Field focused on the possible engagement of Christians for refugees in Switzerland.

The quote comes from Fabiola Bloch from the independent private initiative “Basel helps with”. As a «niche», this is not dedicated to directly looking after refugees, but to accepting, packing and sending material aid such as clothing and toys. Bloch had previously been asked by moderator Schröder Field whether, in her opinion, belief was a bridge or an obstacle to volunteer help. Bloch emphasized that for them, as “non-religious” people, it was unimportant what motivation the helpers used; that is almost never an issue when talking to one another.

Diaconal service

«Faith gives strength; But it also creates boundaries, "added Imma Mäder from the SRK in Basel, who, because of her employer, has to remain religiously neutral:" If religion is too much in the center of life, you are no longer open to anything else. " Fortunately, however, the beliefs of most Swiss people are “not so strong that they can no longer help”.

Roland Luzi from the Ecumenical Pastoral Care Service for Asylum Seekers, a devout Christian like the fourth representative of the Basel aid organizations, Christian Plüss from the Aid Organization of the Evangelical Churches in Switzerland (Heks) in Basel, pointed out that diaconal service is naturally part of the Christian faith: religion must go along with it but this service is not in the foreground.

Christmas party for refugees?

All four also agreed on Schröder Fields question how their Münster community could organize a Christmas party for refugees. Bloch, who works as a carer for unaccompanied underage asylum seekers in addition to her volunteer work, has already done this with a "gift festival", which Christmas only presented as a secular festival in order to enable members of all religions to participate. Plüss also advised not to make the celebration “too close to the rituals of our church”, but nonetheless sensual with a lot of music: “It is important that it is not raised as an 'offer for you', but rather as an equal to one another.”

Luzi, who works directly with people in the largest Swiss federal asylum center in Muttenz, BL, however, objected: "You should definitely sing Christmas carols." However, the Münster as a cathedral is already a problem for many refugees of different faiths: "When you celebrate in the asylum center, you get everyone on board."

The event in the Bischofshof next to Basel Minster was the third of three in the series “Strangers seek home” under the motto “What is being done and what can we do?”. On the first two evenings, the Münster parish spoke with speakers on the subjects of “Foreign and home from a Christian perspective” and “The refugee crisis and the Swiss Church: then - and now?”

© Catholic Media Center, April 8th, 2017
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