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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

Continental Meeting 

organized by CELAM-SEPMOV

 in Bogotà, Colombia (2003, 7-9 may)

Opening remarks

Archbishop Stephen Fumio HAMAO

President, Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant People

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is an honor and a pleasure for me to be here with you in this Continental Meeting on the Pastoral Care of Human Mobility, which aims to analyze the impact of globalization on the phenomenon of human mobility that also produces migrants and refugees, and not only in the American continent. In this way, you, as Church - in collaboration with other organizations in civil society and in the context of the existence of many different States but only one America - hope to work for a better quality of life among migrants and refugees, also and especially from the religious point of view.

Indeed, as stated in the Post-Synodal Exhortation Ecclesia in America, the contemporary world is characterized by globalization which, although not exclusively American, is more obvious and has greater repercussions in America.[1] The phenomenon started off as an economic event, with the liberalization of commercial exchange and capital flow, thus overcoming State boundaries. But it did not remain an exclusively economic phenomenon. Improved technology led to better transportation and modern means of social communications which have shortened distances and caused an intermingling of cultural values, customs and traditions. Culture, too, is somehow globalized. Radio and television cut across frontiers without having to ask permission from the border police… Now, globalization refers to the expansion of global ties and global interdependence, the global organization of social life, even the growth of a global consciousness towards the formation of a world society, usually termed as the “global village”.

In itself, globalization is neither good nor bad. The Holy Father himself said so.[2] It is what people make of it.

Sadly, in the present context of free flow of capital, goods, services and culture – even with measures of protectionism on the part of some rich countries - the flow of people is not as free. States tend to control their borders and allow in only those whom they consider beneficial to the nation and, fortunately, sometimes also for humanitarian reasons. Little attention, however, is given to the fact that if a person tries to find employment in a country that is not his own, it is fundamentally because he cannot find an adequate job in his home country, or even afford to support himself or his family; and that if he flees from his homeland because of persecution or violence that endangers his life, he cannot be forced to go back there. Are people in these situations, that is, migrants and refugees, not entitled to the same possibility of employment and security as the nationals of a prospective host country? Are they not included among those who are destined to enjoy the universal “common good”?

In any case, the impact of globalization on human mobility is such that it is impossible to think of stopping the international movement of people. In this context, it is important to bear in mind that the migrant is a human person, with relationships, rights and duties. It is, in fact, his/her right, “when there are just reasons for it, … to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there.”[3] It would therefore be important that there be international collaboration among countries of origin, transit and destination so that migrants and their families are safeguarded against a violation of their rights while in transit, in ports and airports, at borders and at checkpoints.

The severe immigration laws that many receiving countries have set up have only encouraged irregular migration. When it is difficult to cross a border legally, and there is an impelling need to do so, then people attempt unauthorized migration. When people are without rights, like migrants in irregular conditions, it is easy to exploit and abuse them and at the same time enjoy economic gains at their expense. Protecting the rights of irregular migrants, therefore, would be an important step in stopping both clandestine migration and migrant abuse and exploitation.

Since people move when their situation and that of their families are such that they can no longer live according to local norms of safety, dignity and well-being,[4] then it is necessary to develop just alternatives to migration, especially in those countries where emigration is practically “systemic”.

In his social encyclical Centesimus Annus,[5] the Holy Father affirms that “love for others, and in the first place love for the poor, in whom the Church sees Christ himself, is made concrete in the promotion of justice.” For justice to be fully achieved, it is necessary that “people see in the poor person, who is asking for help in order to survive, not an annoyance or a burden, but an opportunity for showing kindness and a chance for greater enrichment.” Concretely, this means “helping entire peoples which are presently excluded or marginalized to enter into the sphere of economic and human development.” For this to happen, “it is not enough to draw on the surplus goods which in fact our world abundantly produces; it requires above all a change of lifestyles, of models of production and consumption… ” There is, in fact, an “urgent need to change the spiritual attitudes which define each individual's relationship with self, with neighbor, with even the remotest human communities, and with nature itself; and all of this in view of higher values such as the common good,”[6] considered in relation to the whole human family.

It is not fair that the rich become richer and many poor even poorer, be it at the individual level or among nations. This is one of the possible effects of globalization, if not properly “governed”, against which Ecclesia in America puts us on our guard.[7] “Globalized economy – the document affirms – must be analyzed in the light of the principles of social justice, respecting the preferential option of the poor, who must be given the possibility of defending themselves in a globalized economy, and the exigencies of international common good.”[8]

But since globalization is not simply an economic event, it would be necessary to analyze all its aspects so that there would be no losers – as far as is possible - among the players in a globalized world. New rules, new national and international institutions are necessary. There is a need for an authority at the worldwide level to “govern” globalization in all its components, with all the structures that its governance requires. This, however, does not imply a worldwide government.[9] As the Holy Father strongly warns us, “globalization must not be a new version of colonialism,” but “must respect the diversity of cultures which, within the universal harmony of peoples, are life’s interpretive keys. In particular, it must not deprive the poor of what remains most precious to them, including their religious beliefs and practices, since genuine religious convictions are the clearest manifestation of human freedom…. In all the variety of cultural forms, universal human values exist and they must be brought out and emphasized as the guiding force of all development and progress.”[10]

Migrants, in fact, are often victims of contemporary forms of discrimination and intolerance, often also because of their religious beliefs. In some cases, they cannot even express their faith privately in their own homes. It is necessary to uphold the right of migrants and their families to express their creed freely in their destination country and to have spiritual assistance from qualified ministers of their religious tradition.

People need each other; they are interdependent, both at the individual level and among Nations. Interdependence asks for solidarity as a response. This is not intended to mean “a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.”[11] Those who have a greater share of goods and common services should feel it their responsibility to share with those who have less what they possess. Those who have less should not be purely passive or even destructive of the social fabric but do what they can for the good of all. The intermediate groups are not to look only at their own interests but respect the interest of others.[12] At the international level, solidarity means the establishment of an international system based on the equality of all peoples and the necessary respect for their legitimate differences.

As Church, it is our duty to contribute to the formation of an “authentic globalized culture of solidarity.”[13] We are called to “cooperate with every legitimate means in reducing the negative effects of globalization, such as the domination of the powerful over the weak, especially in the economic sphere, and the loss of the values of local cultures in favour of a misconstrued homogenization.”[14]

The Bishops of the American continent have not been inactive in the face of globalization, but have spelled out some pastoral strategies to meet its challenge. In a joint meeting among CELAM, USCCB and Canada’s CCB in Quebec, last February, they renewed their commitment to study globalization and to educate the faithful on its benefits and negative consequences. They underlined Christ’s being the Good Samaritan, in contrast to merciless development in globalization, and called on investors and politicians to pay greater attention to the common good. They also committed themselves to fostering the faith at a more profound level in the various American cultures, including the upholding and valuing of popular piety, which comes from a genuine meeting with the Gospel. This manifests respect for the specific culture of every people, in contrast to the “homogenization” of culture in globalization.

May the discussions that will follow during this Congress help all of us who give pastoral care especially to migrants and refugees harness the effects of globalization to enable the people entrusted to our care share fully in all aspects of the life of the human family, according to God’s design for the unity of mankind.

[1]cf. Ecclesia in America (EA), no. 20.
[2]cf. Pope John Paul II, Address to the Members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Vatican City, 27 April 2001, no.2.
[3]Pacem in terris, no. 25.
[4]cf. Patrick A. Taran, “Human Rights of Migrants: Challenges of the New Decade”, International Migration, Vol. 38, No. 6, Special Issue 2/2000, p. 13. 
[5]no. 58.
[6]Sollicitudo Rei Socialis(SRS), no. 38.
[7]cf. EA 20.
[8]EA 55.
[9]cf. Agostino Marchetto, Archbishop, “Globalizzazione, Migrazioni e Povertà” in People on the Move, Vol.XXXIV, No. 90, December 2002, p. 89.
[10]Pope John Paul II, Address to the Members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Vatican City, 27 April 2001, no. 4.
[11]SRS 38.
[12]cf. SRS 39. 
[13]EA 55.