“It’s them. My children, from the southern border of Europe
Santiago Agrelo OFM
Archbishop Emeritus of Tangier
It is them”.
Where now I say: “It is them” when I began to write, I used to say: “They are my children.” I am speaking of the migrants who have been bleeding for years on the roads of what was my Church in Morocco, on all the roads where they are forced to pass, and in which, with unacceptable frequency, in addition to their physical and psychological integrity, they leave their lives.
I began by saying: “They are my children,” hoping that politics and solidarity would respect the pain I feel when I see them bleeding and dying. I said: “They are my children,” although I carry engraved on the walls of my heart the certainty that, before being mine, “they belong to God”; and that only because they belong to God can I also say that they are mine. I cannot imagine what our borders, economic interests, and political strategies represent for God if the victims of those borders, of those interests, of those strategies were his children, were only one of his children.
But I will have to continue saying: “They are my children.” Because this God, the God of Jesus, the God of the poor, the God who gave me these children to take care of, represents nothing, is nothing, for the owners of the borders. The God of Jesus, the God of the poor, is a God they do not believe in and do not fear. Theirs, if they have one, is a God who does not interfere in these matters, and that, whatever we do with the poor migrants of impoverished Africa, he has nothing to say. What belongs to God is already given to him in churches and mosques. God is not at the borders.
So I will continue to shout, “They are my children.” May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I stop crying: “They are my children.” I will shout it as if I were the mother of each of them as if I were their father… A mother, a father, knows that a border can never be worth a child’s life. A mother, a father, knows that a border can never make it reasonable to take the life of a single one of their children. And I learned that there are no interests, strategies, projects, or designs that are worth the life of just one of my children. Although I also had to learn that my father’s pain, my mother’s cry, to the managers of borders, of interests, of strategies, mattered precisely the same as God’s pain: nothing.
Then I dreamed of madness, a universal feeling of paternity, maternity… I dreamed that we were all, all of us, those who on both sides of the border were saying: “They are my children”… I dreamed that the gods of borders, of interests, of strategies, would be expelled from their temples, and that “our” children could seek without fear a future without hunger. But this dream is made impossible by ideologies, racism, xenophobia, disinformation, manipulation of consciences, deified selfishness, and lies… this dream is made impossible by sin…
There are innumerable times in these days that I have had to see the young people who died; nobody knows yet how many, how, and why, at the border of Melilla, pointed out as “irregulars,” as “illegals,” as “sympathizers” -thus, with that atrocious and indecent neologism-, as “irregulars,” as “illegals.” Likewise, countless times these days, I have had to see the words “terrorism” and “threat” associated with the migrants coming up from Africa to Europe.
These messages are commonplace in all the media -I apologize for the word “all,” but I would not know where to begin to make exceptions-. I do not doubt that I have also heard them angrily in the media of the Church in Spain. They are all noises that make this dream impossible: ideological noise, immoral noise, noises that make empathy with the dead impossible and justify the lack of solidarity with the living… noises that prevent us from dreaming of something more dignified for all, something more human.
Where unconsciousness – I do not want to think that it is evil – writes or says: “illegal,” “irregular,” “simpapeles” I always tried to write and say: “children” so that we could see children, only children. Where unconsciousness, to point out emigrants, writes or says: “violent,” “threat,” “terrorism,” I write and speak and repeat: “children.” Where unconsciousness, to point out emigrants, writes or says: “mafias,” “criminality,” “gangs,” I can only write and say: “children.”
However, I have no choice but to understand that it is nothing more than a dream, an illusion, that we get to see our children in poor Africans whom we have never seen. So I will withdraw that: “they are my children” – even if they never cease to be so – and I will shout with all my strength: “They are them.”
“They are them”: they are men, women, and children; they have a first and last name, they have a family, they have a nationality. “They are them,”: and they have rights and duties with which they were born, and we all have to respect them. “They are them,”: and they are unique, an unrepeatable world of artistic, technical, political, and cultural possibilities, a world that we annihilate in the name of some supposed rights of our borders. “It’s them,”: and they are worth more than all borders. “They are the”: and there are no interests or strategies to which the life of a single one of these men, these women, these children can be surrendered without infamy: their lives are worth it because “they are them.”
The poor and the Gospel
I continue to speak of them, those poor emigrants, and those young people who, from hell, crossing other hells, have arrived at the southern border of Spain. The Lord has given me the grace to see that hell from the inside: it was for an instant, but from that instant, I live to snatch from hell its victims. That is why I do not deal with borders: I deal with hell.
Life has taught me that politics is not interested in the fate of the poor but its own fate. Life has taught me that billions of euros are invested in Spain’s southern border, so the poor cannot cross it.
Politics has called this “sealing the borders.” And we have all accepted the purpose and its formulation. We all understood that it was not the physical absurdity of a border that water or any other liquid could not cross; we all accepted that the poor could not cross that border; we all assumed that the poor would die there. And we never question that purpose of putting an end to the poor, not even when some image escapes the control of power and throws the hell we have created in our faces.
The disciples of Jesus of Nazareth do not have to justify the legitimacy of any border. The disciples of Jesus of Nazareth have the mandate to cross them all, as water crosses them, air crosses them, as the birds of the air cross them. The disciples of Jesus of Nazareth have been anointed by the Spirit of Jesus, anointed and sent to the poor, and not to bring them doctrines or recommendations, but to bring them the good news they need to hear; we have been anointed and sent to “proclaim liberty to the captives,” “proclaim sight to the blind”; “set the oppressed free”; heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, make the kingdom of God visible to the eyes of the poor.
We, the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, have been anointed and sent to be Gospel for the poor: To be Gospel! Ours is to steal victims from hell.
It is always them
As a disciple of Jesus, I am obliged to ask myself about the truth of my discipleship. As Church, I am compelled to ask myself about the fact in the exercise of the mission entrusted to me. If I want to know the answer, I must ask the poor.
In his day, they were the criterion Jesus offered to discern the authenticity of his mission: “The blind see and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hears, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news preached to them.” Although many of us find it difficult to understand and even more challenging to accept, the poor are always the criterion by which the credibility of the Church is judged. There is no true Church if it is not found camped among the poor, immigrants, and those who die at the borders.
They, always they, are our credibility credentials.
Santiago Agrelo OFM