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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People


The Role of the Receiving Community

 in the Pastoral Care 

of Migrants and Refugees*


Archbishop Stephen Fumio HAMAO

President, Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerants

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is a joy for me to be here with you today and exchange views and ideas regarding our common concern for the Church and the faithful entrusted to our care. Allow me to begin this sharing with a presentation of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, of which I am the President.

The Pontifical Council, as you know, is part of the Roman Curia, which is defined by the Constitution Pastor Bonus (PB) as follows: "The Roman Curia is made up of those dicasteries and organisms which assist the Roman Pontiff in exercising his supreme pastoral office for the welfare and service of the Universal Church and of particular Churches, the exercise of which reinforces the unity of faith and communion of the People of God and promotes the Church’s own mission in the world” (PB art. 1).

Briefly, the role of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants is to assist the Holy Father in exercising his supreme office for the welfare and in the service of the Universal Church and the local and particular Churches by the promotion of pastoral activities in favor of all the people on the move, and studying problems that are related to their world and require pastoral care. In exercising these functions, the Pontifical Council contributes in reinforcing the unity of faith and communion of the People of God and promoting the Church’s own mission in the world of human mobility.

Let us now consider those who have been forced to abandon their homelands, either due to extreme economic reasons, including dire poverty, natural conditions and catastrophes that endanger their lives, or to persecution of all kinds, as well as violence and violation of human rights.

First of all, to determine what kind of activities that should be undertaken, a refresher on the Church’s mission in this world would not be out of place.

In all ages and all times, the Church is called to proclaim to all people the Good News that God became man. By his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ restored the lost unity that man had with God. It was out of love that God created the world and man, whom He created to his image and likeness. Man rejected God’s love and broke away from Him by failing to honor the first Covenant, and other Covenants after it. God, who is faithful to himself and to his love for man and the whole of creation, sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ into the world. He suffered and died on the cross and rose from the dead, thus re-establishing the broken bond between God and man. In this way, he also gave back to every man and woman the dignity of a child of God. Being children of one Father, all members of the human race are brothers and sisters with each other and form one single human family (cf. Redemptor Hominis, nn. 9-10). 

Redemption is in fact a new creation, in Christ. It is a revelation of the essence of God who is love, a love that is stronger than death, a love that is always ready to raise up and forgive, love that is mercy, reconciliation. But it is also a revelation of man to himself, that he, too, will find fulfillment only if he would participate intimately in God’s love and, in turn, love in the way He does. At the same time, it reveals man to himself, his worth and dignity, for He must be so precious in the eyes of the Creator to gain such a great Redeemer. All this is the Good News, the Gospel that the Church wishes to proclaim to all men and women up to the ends of the earth (Ibid.). 

This is the reality that Jesus Christ has already accomplished, but which is still in the process of becoming here on earth. The local Church and the receiving community are called to contribute to its accomplishment in the world of migrants and refugees.

It is therefore easy to see that central to the mission of the receiving Church is Jesus Christ: proclaim Him in the world of migrants and refugees, make Him live and grow in the hearts of those who receive Him, honor Him in all those of whom He said, “Whatever you do to these, the least of my

brothers, you do unto me.” His identification with every human person underlines the dignity of every migrant and refugee and demands that he be treated accordingly. 

The local Church is also called to give its contribution to the realization of the one family composed of children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ and of one another, in the world of migrants and refugees… In doing so, it edifies a portion of the Church which is Church, the people of God, the Mystical Body of Christ, among migrants, refugees and those who welcome them. It is worthy to remember that respecting the dignity and rights of every person means respecting his values and beliefs, and therefore requires that proclamation be carried out with due respect and freedom.

The priorities of the local Church should be all those initiatives, activities and projects that contribute to the fulfillment of this mission. Naturally, they will not always be the same in the different continents and countries, with their own customs and traditions, and other external circumstances existing in the area where the programs are carried out.

But for a few leads, allow me to mention some reflections and observations:

  • When there are people in need, especially in emergency situations, it is almost natural to worry about solving their urgent problems and providing their immediate necessities. Generosity in such a situation can never the appreciated sufficiently. 
  • It would, however, be important that before emergency comes, when there would be no time to think and reflect, we ask ourselves: When I do social action among migrants and refugees, what differentiates me from other agencies or NGOs, or am I just one of them? Do I deal with Christ in each one of the migrants and refugees and all those who work among them, including those who are not Christians? Am I Christ for them, through my actions, my words, my compassion, my respect, my love, my life?
  • If I let Christ live in me, efficiency and effectiveness will be necessary consequences. If I deal with Christ in them, I will respect their human rights and dignity and have them respected by others, etc.
  • Do I aim to respectfully proclaim Christ to them one day, or remind them of Him, when the proper time comes, so that Christ make live and grow in them and transform their lives?
  • Am I and the other pastoral agents prepared to teach them the Gospel and all the tenets of the Catholic faith, if necessary?
  • To be able to undertake inter-religious dialogue, including the dialogue of life, it is paramount for all Christians to be well-formed in their Christian faith. This is particularly so for pastoral agents among migrants and refugees who may be in daily contact with those who profess a belief different from Christianity.
  • The Bishops and the pastoral agents, both clergy and lay are the arms of the Pontifical Council in any country. To build the Church in the milieu of migrants and refugees, pastoral action should be inserted in the diocesan ecclesial life. I cannot build a Church separate from the local Church. For the Church community among migrants and among refugees to be truly one family, it should be one family with all other communities in the local Church.
  • Allow me at this point to quote from the Instruction De Pastorali Migratorum Cura (Chapter IV, B, 30. Sec. 3) which states: The spiritual care of all the faithful, and thus of the immigrant people, falls most especially on the shoulders of the pastors of the parishes within which they live. These shall one day give an account to God regarding the fulfillment of their duty. Let them bear this heavy burden in association and union with the chaplain or missionary if there is one present.

This last point means that the local Church is always responsible for the care of migrants and refugees, but especially when there are no missionaries or chaplains explicitly for them. Migrants and refugees are part and parcel of the local Church, and the special care given to them is only because their condition is such that to participate in the life of the local Church, they need special attention. However, they are not outsiders of the local Christian community.

To welcome them, therefore, is not an extra act of benevolence. To welcome them is a duty of the local receiving community, as much as it is the migrants’ and the refugees' duty to be fully Christian members of the community that receives them. Because the Body of Christ needs all members, and no one is less responsible for letting Christ live again among us men.

* Meeting with the Singapore Archdiocesan Commission for Migrants and Itinerants (2002, July 7), Singapore, Penang, Malaysia.