The Holy See
back up

Pontificio Consiglio della Pastorale per i Migranti e Itineranti

Presentation of the Pontifical Message
for the World Day of 
Migrants and Refugees 2002

Archbishop Stephen Fumio HAMAO
President of the Pontifical Council

During the sessions of the ongoing X Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, the Synod Fathers did not fail to mention the tragedy of migrants and refugees among the most urgent concerns of the Church today. These and other similar flows of people among nations and continents inevitably bring together people of different cultures and religions. One of the topics being tackled by the Synod Fathers, in fact, is inter-religious dialogue considered as an important factor in the life of the Church today. Thus, here is the theme of the 88th World Day of Migrants and Refugees: “Migration and Inter-religious Dialogue”.

At just a little over a month from the tragic events in New York and Washington, we might wonder if the choice of the theme is not a bit too bold. To speak of migration precisely now would seem done on purpose to touch a spot that hurts: now when many countries are reviewing their migration laws, maybe re-evaluating the weight to give to the religion professed by the potential migrants and refugees, when measures of border control are being tightened to prevent terrorists from entering the national territory.

To my mind, however, the Holy Father’s Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2002 is timely more than ever. It precisely wishes to give an answer to the invocation for peace that comes forth from the mouths and the hearts of innocent people who want nothing else but to be left free to live a life worthy of human beings, children of only one Father, God, and brothers and sisters to one another. 

In his message to the participants in the XV International Meeting of prayer for peace, held in Barcelona from 2 to 4 September 2001, the Holy Father mentioned a dream of his: “the dream of the unity of the human family”. In his desire to have a sign of this unity, the Pope invited Christians of the different Churches and authorities of the great world religions to come to Assisi in October 1986. “I had a great vision before my eyes,” wrote Pope John Paul II. “(I saw) all peoples of the world walking from the various points of the earth to gather together as one family with the one and only God.”

Is this vision not the picture of migration that is now taking place in all parts of the world? Not even one continent can claim to be exempt of the migration phenomenon. Every country is either a land of origin or a land of arrival of immigrants, and often it is both one and the other. 

But are they walking to gather together as one family with the one and only God? In spite of what we see, in spite of the events that seem to affirm the opposite, I have to answer the question in the affirmative. Yes, whether they like it or not, whether they know it or not, all people on earth are walking towards unity. This is because the design of God on mankind is one. As the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium (LG) affirms, “in the beginning God made human nature one and decreed that all His children, scattered as they were, would finally be gathered together as one.”[1] God has never ceased to be present in history, in spite of the sad pages that have been written on it. He is the Lord of history and, sooner or later, with or without us, he will accomplish his design of love on humanity. It is therefore to our own benefit if we collaborate with Him in being craftsmen of the unity of the human family. 

The march towards unity inevitably involves challenges since it brings different peoples into “a world where men and women of different cultures and religions are called to live shoulder to shoulder with one another.”[2] In his Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees of 2002, the Holy Father offers some indications so that such a life together could be realized in peace. He affirms that “for this living together to develop peacefully, it is indispensable to remove the barriers of diffidence, prejudice and fear that unfortunately still exist among those who belong to the different religions. Dialogue is the leading way to follow, and the Church invites us to walk this path in order to move from diffidence to respect, from rejection to welcome.”[3]

In fact, there is a need for dialogue and mutual tolerance in every country among those who profess the religion of the majority and those who belong to the minorities, often composed of immigrants who belong to various religions. This holds true both for countries where the majority is Christian and for those whose majority population is of the Jewish or Muslim religion, Hindu or Buddhist, or is in some way searching for the unknown God.[4]

True dialogue is established between people who are looking for the truth “in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free” with the possibility of explaining to others the truth they think they have discovered.[5] Once recognized, the truth requires the personal adhesion of the one who discovers it. The convictions “kept in the most intimate sanctuary of the human person,” affirms Pope John Paul II,[6] are expressed in religious freedom. Thus the Pope calls for the recognition of such a right. In fact, the Vatican II document Dignitatis Humanae states: “Injury therefore is done to the human person and to the very order established by God for human life, if the free exercise of religion is denied in society, provided just public order is observed.”[7] This affirmation remains valid in whatever environment a person may be, whether he be migrant or native.

The search for truth and the dialogue that results from this, however, does not take place only in the field of theological research, but above all in daily life, and not so much through events that dazzle the means of social communications, but through small gestures of friendship, solidarity and brotherhood. When within a civil community citizens know how to accept each other with their respective religious convictions, it is easier for them to come to an understanding on the basic values for a peaceful and constructive living together. They would feel united by the awareness of being brothers and sisters, as they are children of the one and only God, creator of the universe.[8] And once we recognize each other as brothers and sisters and we love each other as children of the same Father who is Love, there comes the hope “for warding off the dread specter of those wars of religion which have so often bloodied human history”, often causing painful forced migration. Then comes the certainty that the name of the one and only God will become ever more “a name of peace and a summon to peace,”[9] that peace the Jesus called his own: “Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace which the world cannot give, this is my gift to you” (Jn 14,27).

Earthly peace, in fact, “symbolizes and results from the peace of Christ…. For by the cross the incarnate Son, the prince of peace reconciled all men with God. By thus restoring all men to the unity of one people and one body, He slew hatred in His own flesh; and, after being lifted on high by His resurrection, He poured forth the spirit of love into the hearts of men.”[10] In this moment of history, more than ever we feel the need that this love reign among all human beings, and that the same love animate and push us towards inter-religious dialogue, particularly that dialogue that we establish with the migrants and refugees who knock at our doors.

[1] LG 13.
[2] Pope John Paul II, Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees
[3] ibid.
[4] cf. LG 16.
[5] cf. Dignitatis Humanae (DH), no. 3.
[6] cf. Pope John Paul II, Discourse to the Peoples of Kazakhstan, 22 September 2001.
[7] DH 3.
[8] cf. Pope John Paul II, Discourse….
[9] cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, no. 55, GMMR, no. 2.
[10] Gaudium et Spes, no. 78.