The Holy See
back up

Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

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

Fr. Michael BLUME, SVD
Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council

1. The term welcome – in the sense of a “spirituality” of welcome – is certainly the keystone of the Message of the Holy Father for the next World Day for Migrants and Refugees in 2003.  The welcome of immigrants is in fact considered the Christian attitude par excellence, with which Christ himself is welcomed in the stranger and which is opposed to all forms of racism and xenophobia found in our societies.  It is thus welcome linked to concrete “programs of solidarity” and to “practical service” for migrants and refugees.

Migration today is not a marginal phenomenon that requires only emergency responses.  Rather it is a structural phenomenon that involves many nations and has  profound effects on the social, cultural and religious life of the States of departure and of arrival.

Faced with this reality, how should we react?  The history of modern migration shows us that in the 19th century the Church, as the Pope affirms, also responded with wide-ranging actions by people who had intuited the historical importance of the phenomenon:  We think of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, who with a religious congregation founded numerous schools, orphanages, workshops and hospitals, not to mention the Blessed Bishop Scalabrini, who also founded two religious congregations for assistance to migrants.  He sent his missionaries to the main ports in Italy (to protect migrants from traffickers in human beings) as well as to the Americas (to welcome them on arrival and for getting them initially settled in their new surroundings).  Scalabrini also founded, besides  churches, schools for children of migrants and even worked out a scheme for what would actually become the first law on emigration of the Italian Government.

Thus the Pope’s Message recalls these two personalities as a source of inspiration as well as two international institutions:  the Catholic agency Caritas and the International Catholic Migration Commission.  Today they are particularly noteworthy in assistance to migrants throughout the world.

2. And for ourselves, how should we act to welcome migrants in response to the basic Gospel message to “Welcome one another as Christ welcomed you for the glory of God” (Rom.15,7)?

In actual fact the simple appeal for welcome, no matter how high its inspiration,  does not give an automatic, concrete response to what confronts us day by day, namely to the widespread fear and sense of insecurity of people, to the necessary respect for legality, and to safeguarding the identity of the country of arrival.  It is the genuine Christian spirit of welcome that marks our courage in facing these problems and suggests concrete ways with which, in the daily life of our Christian communities and in civil society as well, we are called to put them into practice, respecting of course necessary and legitimate policies and laws.

Thus Christian communities in countries of welcome face the challenge

- of making known the complex problems of migration and opposing unfounded suspicions and prejudices towards strangers;

- of illustrating the problems of migrants  in the teaching of religion, in catechesis and in liturgical celebrations and of reminding the faithful of concrete forms of welcome towards all, especially the poor and emarginated;

- of promoting interventions of “first welcome” in response to emergencies that migratory movements bring with themselves:  food, medical services, economic help, welcome centers, language and literacy courses;

- of facilitating interventions of “second welcome” directed towards the gradual insertion of the foreigner into the society of arrival, i.e., family unification, education of children, permanent housing, presence and participation in associations, the promotion of civil rights;

- of encouraging religious and Christian-inspired social-charitable and cultural organizations to involve immigrants in their structures, besides being in their service.

3. Although there are many problems that migrants have to face in the society of arrival, we do not want to forget the difficulties that also arise, for various reasons, in these same societies, among believing Christians.  Anti-racist rhetoric has its limits and cannot be the center of a pastoral approach.  Believers themselves are often deeply disturbed because of the new multi-cultural situations created by migration.  While they desire to follow Christ, this environment makes it more difficult.  Some of them are victims of disinformation, or they feel a certain nostalgia for the past.  Others feel threatened by the loss of jobs or other insecurities.

Whatever may be the cause of feeling ill at ease, these people also have a right to our pastoral attention.  This includes patient listening to their concerns and complaints and the knowledge of actions, programs and prayer that witness and help the Christian community to “stake everything on charity” (NMI, 49).  This is what erodes xenophobia and its more severe manifestations in racism.

4. Migration throws light on the need to work a transformation of institutions and persons.  What transformation?  For us Christians it is the result of daily conversion to Christ.  He evangelizes us to a pedagogy of welcome.  Being rooted in Christ is what allows cultures to be freed from the tendency to think only about themselves and to discern in people of other cultures the hand of God.  This is what lets us overcome mere geographical closeness of foreigners with the more stable residents of the country of welcome.  And this is what lets migrants – especially Christians – give their contribution to their society of arrival.  It is a process that passes through various stages:  from tolerance to respect and to an authentic “interculturality.”  This is possible only where the redemptive grace of Christ is victorious, transforming egoism into altruism, fear into welcome and rejection into solidarity.  Thus the Church has an indispensable contribution to offer through its teaching and is witness.

5. I would like to conclude citing an earlier appeal of the Holy Father: “ Modern human mobility which promotes reciprocal knowledge and international collaboration is working towards unity and the consolidation of fraternal relations between peoples ensuring a two‑way traffic in development. Within the framework of these more frequent and profound relationships, people are discovering new perspectives opening up in precisely that field of their commitment: the constitution of a society capable of applying the principles of interdependence and solidarity in working toward the solution of serious international problems” (Message for the World Day for Migrants and Refugees, 1989, n. 5).