By Thomas Kemper
October 4, 2013--The deaths of more than 130 migrants from Eritrea and Somalia in a boat accident within sight of land off the Italian island of Lampedusa is a tragedy that brings us to our knees in prayer and then lifts us to our feet in holy indignation.
The casualties--and hundreds are still missing--are but the latest in an ongoing clash between the aspirations of people to improve their lives and a "fortress Europe" mentality of indifference and hostility to migrants. As a European, and as a Christian, I am saddened, shocked, and outraged by this heart-wrenching incident.
Reports indicated that more than 500 migrants were on a flimsy boat approaching Lampedusa when fire broke out. One tragedy is the poverty and repression that sends migrants looking for a better way of life; another springs from government policies--European in this case--that reflects fear and distrust of the new arrivals.
Significantly, Lampedusa, often the first stop for thousands seeking new opportunities, was the second place visited by Pope Francis after his election. In a speech there, the pope mentioned previous accidents, saying, "let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty in the world, in ourselves, and even in those who anonymously make socio-economic decisions that open the way to tragedies like this."
Even as we pray for all those affected by this terrible accident, let us recommit ourselves to justice for, and solidarity with migrants, working toward a world with no oppression or poverty, no fences, or substandard migrant boats--a world in which people live together as one community.
The place of migrants in our United Methodist Church's mission and ministries cannot be overstated. Many of our missionaries work with migrant communities, deling firsthand with the conditions that displace people, hearing how government policies against migration led to exploitation and tragedy. As a church, we help migrants find paths to hope and healing.
Migrants are a priority in our United Methodist Ministry with the Poor emphasis. The very week of the Lampedusa accident, we took part in People's Global Action on Migration, Development and Human rights. The General Board of Global Ministries also sponsored a denominational delegation to the High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, taking place in connection with the United nations General Assembly.
Tragedies such as the latest in Lampedusa might be prevented with reform of migration policies such as those enforced by "fortress Europe," by attitudes that welcome the stranger, and by commitments to seek justice and mercy for all people.
May our prayers move us to advocacy and action on behalf of people who seek opportunity and friendship in a world of self-protection and indifference. Those are barriers the church is called to remove.
Thomas Kemper is the General Secretary of the Untied methodist General Board of Global Ministires.