I think it was when I was Dean of Belfast when I truly had my eyes opened to when statements are made by figures in public life that mean absolutely nothing. They may be said with great earnestness and energy, and even passion, but they are meaningless. Either they have been said many times before, and are being uttered as if new, or, when analysed, they appear to be nothing but words which will lead to no action; no real engagement with others; no intent to work towards a solution to a problem. They are just words.
When I heard the Pope speak two days ago on the island of Lesbos (at a temporary camp catering for about two thousand asylum-seekers) concerning the plight of refugees, I felt the opposite. These were carefully chosen and delivered words, in the right context and needing to be heard, and acted upon by those who can make a difference. I suppose one might say that they could fall under the, “We have heard it before”, but the highlighting of the problem in the context in which the Pope spoke, as we settle into a winter when already people have died, and we know that they are suffering, a fresh and succinct statement of what needs to be done - and calling for a response - was very good to hear. Interestingly, the Pope’s words have more or less disappeared from news sites already, so let me repeat some of them here:
"In Europe there are those who persist in treating the problem as a matter that does not concern them - this is tragic.”
"History teaches us that narrow self-interest and nationalism lead to disastrous consequences.”
The Pope spoke of the fact that the world was making some attempts to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and to make efforts to offset the problem of climate change, but, “there was little sign of such an approach to migration.”
He went on to say:
"It is easy to influence public opinion by instilling fear of the other.”
"The remote causes should be attacked, not the poor people who pay the consequences and are even used for political propaganda.”
These are more than soundbites. In a few short sentences they reveal the crisis.