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
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
- 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
- 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
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).