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  Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of the Migrants and Itinerant People




(16-19 May 2004)



Gathered in the Palazzo San Calisto in Vatican City for the 16th Plenary Meeting of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, held from 16-19 May 2004, the members and consultors of the dicastery reflected on ecumenical, interreligious and intercultural dialogue in the world of human mobility. Specifically this included sharing experiences in ongoing dialogue in the sectors of migrants, refugees, nomads, tourism, pilgrimages, Apostleship of the Sea, Apostleship of the Road, and civil aviation.  

In the midst of the deliberations the participants were encouraged by our Holy Father, who invited them to assume a pastoral attitude of dialogue in view of a new global harmony. This dialogue“brings about a profound change of mentality as well as of pastoral structures, for which all that pastors invest in its spiritual and cultural formation, also through intercultural meetings and discussions, goes in the direction of the future and constitutes an element of the new evangelization” (His Holiness John Paul II, L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly edition in English, 26 May 2004, p. 5).

The meeting with the Holy Father, the well prepared talks, and the thoughtful reflections about past experiences and future perspectives have helped better understand the breadth, extent and consequences of this dialogue. They have also convinced all of its necessity and urgency so that human mobility in its diverse dimensions may also be a force for peace and harmony among nations and civilizations.

1. Thus the vision of pastoral and missionary dialogue, a virtually new reality in the context of human mobility, which is necessary to promote especially in local Churches, with an ecumenical dimension when possible, includes:

  • forming conscience in the conviction that the love of Christ urges us (Erga migrantes caritas Christi 1) to reach out to the other, the stranger, in love, respect and welcome, without distinction of religion or nationality, affirming in the brother or sister in need Christ himself who comes to us (see EMCC 15 and 40);

  • giving of one’s entire self to another, which is grounded in prayer and radiates from it, not merely an exercise in cognition (see EMCC 88);

  • creating the conviction that though we are different from adherents of other religions, God is greater than our differences, that the semina Verbi (seeds of the Word) are to be sought in other religious communities, and that all believers in God can together give witness that the greatest of all is love;

  • entering more deeply into the concepts of truth and dialogue or identity and relation with the other in the light of the newness of Christian revelation and of the Magisterium of the Church; 

  • recognizing our Christian faith as the supreme cultural act that dignifies our human being as person (see EMCC 36); 

  • looking for good and positive aspects, many times linked with culture, that religions offer, thus breaking down barriers of fear and finding new ways for religions to interact despite past and present negative experiences;

  • recognizing cultural, ecumenical and interreligious dialogue as the method necessary to measure the reciprocal openness and willingness to put oneself to the test in the process of constructing a human civilization for the universal common good;

  • being aware that cultural differences, though neither minor issues or major obstacles, depend largely on the attitudes people take to them as they strive for legitimate communion;

  • acknowledging that dialogue is difficult, requiring perseverance and discernment of what is tolerable and what is not in other cultures and religions; 

  • respecting the culture and personal situation of people and individuals and avoiding proselytism, without forgetting the duty of evangelizing implicitly or explicitly (see EMCC 69);

  • making the due distinction between dialogue and dialectic and thus avoiding reduction of cultural and religious differences to false syntheses, practically accepting indifferentism or relativism;

  • recognizing and affirming differences in the common search for the truth, thus dialoguing to make people better persons and also deepening the inter-cultural aspect of dialogue;

  • dialoguing as a step towards proclamation of the truth, always respecting the confession, religion, culture and situation of the person as well as freedom of conscience; 

  • recognizing the importance of the preferential option of the Church for the poor and thus being especially at their service in pastoral care and dialoguing mission (see EMCC 41).

2. Since dialogue in the world of human mobility needs to be pursued, the following points are worthy of particular attention and action at the level of local Churches: 

  • the role of prayer and trust in the Lord’s power in dialogue; in other words, presenting the vision of faith and praying that people may recognize the message of Jesus Christ;

  • the development of listening skills and attitudes of trusting in the openness and sincerity of the other, accepting, appreciating and even loving people who are different;

  • the importance of training for dialogue in the formation programs of seminarians, religious and pastoral workers (see EMCC 69);

  • the catechesis not only of children of migrants but also of their families and the communities where they live, likewise giving special attention to women who very often are exploited ;

  • the pastoral care of people on the move in their vocation to holiness and their mission to witness the love and truth of Christ by deed and word in the new cultural and religious situation where they live;

  • the formation of people on the move for testifying to Christ in their lives and respectfully explaining the reasons for their hope and love to all who ask;

  • a pastoralapproach to culture based on listening, dialogue and support so that parishes too can respond to new cultural demands;

  • a pastoral approach that is also able to transform parishes too into special training grounds for hospitality and “safe places” where issues of identity, culture, belonging and trust can be worked out through dialogue, thus enabling people on the move to establish their links with the world around them;

  • a spirituality to sustain those who experience the difficulties that personal identity and cultural and religious pluralism bring; 

  • the mass media in missionary dialogue, particularly through radio and production of localprograms, to enter more deeply into cultures where the spoken word counts very much, not forgetting appropriate approaches where the Internet is an important instrument for communication;

  • the dialoguing mission of the Church through the particular contribution of men and women religious and members of secular institutes.

3. More specifically the dramatic situation of refugees was considered, in which dialogue takes on new dimensions in view of the following challenges:

  • a refugee populations now consisting of significant numbers of Muslims;

  • the unfinished task of proposing pastoral plans for working at an interreligious level, respecting differences, while not putting all cultures at the same level or ignoring both areas of agreement and of disagreement ;

  • the need of a dialogic method to help refugees understand Christian values and notion of integral human development, equality of man and women (see EMCC 66);

  • the tendency of Muslims to stress the One and single issues and that of Christians, immersed in the mystery of the Holy Trinity, to put more emphasis on plurality.

 4. In any case it should not be forgotten – as was recalled in the broader discussion -- that migration in general is an “opportunity” for ecumenism as it is also an “opportunity” for the pastoral care of human mobility. It is the responsibility of Churches and Ecclesial Communities, faithful to Christ the Migrant, to take advantage of such opportunities. For the rest, the Holy Father pointed out that “the ever more numerous presence of Christian immigrants not in full communion with the Catholic Church also offers to particular Churches new possibilities for fraternity and ecumenical dialogue, by urging the realization of greater reciprocal understanding … far from facile irenicism and proselytism” (His Holiness John Paul II, ibidem). 

5. During this 16th Plenary Assembly the Pontifical Council submitted to its members and consultors, the following questions, among others:

  • the fixed date for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees (see EMCC 72);

  • the position of sectors in the commissions of episcopal conferences and in the regional and continental episcopal organizations;

  • the new Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi and the World Congress for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees;

  • collaboration with the regional and continental associations of episcopal conferences (see EMCC art. 22§2, 4);

  • collaboration with religious congregations (meetings with superiors general);

  • discussions about the modalities of the ad limina visits.

From the exchange of opinions on the issues there emerged perspectives and directions that will be kept in mind for the future engagements of the Dicastery.

6. The 16th Plenary Meeting furthermore encouraged the same Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People to make its contribution to cultural, ecumenical and interreligious dialogue in concerted action in the Roman Curia, in relation with religious congregations, and not forgetting organizations like the International Catholic Migration Commission (see EMCC 33), in the context of associations of the faithful and ecclesial movements (see EMCC 86).  

As the living human being, according to St. Iranaeus, is the glory of God, the Plenary Meeting reaffirms the conviction that dialogue is the indispensable way for assuring that every person becomes truly alive in the search for the truth about God, himself and the world (see EMCC 30).