The Holy See
back up

Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N 85, April 2001

Regional Meeting of National Directors
for the Pastoral Care of
Migration in African Countries
( Cape Town, South Africa, 7-9 March 2000)

The meeting was convened by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, represented by Archbishop-President Stephen Fumio Hamao; Fr. Loreto De Paolis and Ms. Nilda Castro, both of the Migration Section. It gathered together representatives from various Churches in Africa: Br. Herbert Liebl (Angola), Bishop Boniface Setlalekgosi (Botswana), Fr. Abraham Okoko-Esseau (Congo Brazzaville), Mr. Silverio Chidumu (Malawi), Bishop Adriano Langa (Mozambique), Fr. Simon Amy Gornay (North Africa - CERNA), Rev. Paul Gahutu (Rwanda), Archbishop Lawrence Henry, Fr. Isaia Birollo and Fr. Mario Tessarotto (South Africa), Rev. Marcel Kaberwa (Tanzania), Mr. Vincent Sebukyu (Uganda) and Sr. Stella Takaza (Zimbabwe and IMBISA). The Archbishop of Cape Town, H.E.Msgr. Henry, welcomed the participants and the President of the Pontifical Council, H.E.Msgr. Hamao, illustrated the aims of the meeting.

The second in a series of regional meetings (the first was the regional meeting of Asia and the Pacific held in Kaohsiung, Taiwan in September 1999, and the other two are the planned regional meetings of Europe and the Americas) which will conclude with a general meeting in Rome on October 10-12, 2000, the meeting in Cape Town aimed to define the African situation, reanimate and reinforce the initiatives that are already being done and formulate a better link in the field of migration between the local institutions and the Pontifical Council.

1. Migration in Africa

• In his introductory address, the Archbishop-President pointed out that the theme on migration was intentionally chosen in order to call the attention of the local Church to the problem of migrants which the refugee question, because of its emergency character, has ended up in pushing to the margins. The Pontifical Council itself has indeed closely followed the refugee situation in Africa, where it organized several meetings on the refugee issue. However, this commitment has not kept it from paying attention to the migration phenomenon. Although it is not as urgent as the question of refugees, the migration phenomenon merits just as much attention not only because of the significance of the movements that are already taking place, but also and above all because they are expected to become more complex and continuous.

• Although the migration phenomenon does not have the emergency connotations that the refugee question has, it is nonetheless just as serious and as urgent especially because it is structurally intertwined in the problems of the local society. This is even more so considering that the causes that provoke conflicts and wars forcing people to look for refuge outside the boundaries of their own country are simply variations of the causes of migration: inequality in the possibility of sharing in political processes, in economic resources (land, water, mineral, etc.), in income and opportunities to work, in social conditions (access to social services, schooling, health, etc.).

• Among the various elements mentioned in his talk, a point that merits to be underlined is the peculiarity of the pastoral care for migrants that distinguishes it from ordinary pastoral care. This specific characteristic derives from the definition which the Instruction De Pastorali Migratorum Cura gives to migrants: "We include as people who migrate all those who live outside their homeland or their own ethnic community and need special attention because of real necessity." According to this definition, a migrant is a person who lives outside his Christian community of origin, where he received his education. In the new community of arrival, he is culturally a stranger. In the foreign land, the migrant needs those elements that in some way rebuilds the conditions in which his Christian formation took place. Hence, the need for a pastoral care that is carried out in his own language, meaning not only his tongue but also his culture and the forms by which it is expressed. Such a pastoral care should not be confused with what parishes organize for various categories of people that comprise the community (for example, newlyweds, youth, workers, children, etc.). Nor is it fully accomplished in the charitable assistance that parishes reserve to the needy, whatever their origin or religion may be.

• To define the situation of the pastoral care of migrants in Africa, each delegate presented a country report on the extent and causes of the migration phenomenon and the praxis currently being followed in the pastoral care of migrants. Msgr. Luigi Petris, Director General of Migrantes, the Office of the Italian Episcopal Conference for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants, offered a few tips, based on the experience of the Italian Church, on how to develop the pastoral care of migrants in the local Church which is not to be strictly followed by the Churches in Africa but adapted to the local situation.

• Migration is a widespread phenomenon in Africa. Traditionally emigration countries which were sources of labor supply for countries with mineral mines are presently experiencing immigration of nationals from other African countries.

• With the political crisis and violence exploding in war-torn countries, it is difficult to clearly distinguish between refugee flows and economic migration. At times request for asylum or declaration of being a refugee is resorted to given the difficulty to apply for immigration in many African countries.

• Although there are regular emigrants who leave the country to work, most migration in Africa are either illegal, cases of internal displacement, or refugee movement. Emigration is usually done individually, although once settled, the emigrant calls his family to join him. It is only when migration is related to trade or work for humanitarian organizations that migration entails the movement of entire families.

• Brain drain is an on-going phenomenon. Africans who study in Europe or in the Americas do not want to go back home depriving their countries of origin of that human capital badly needed if they are to pursue the road of development.

• Widespread wars and other kinds of violence are garnering their victims in highly traumatised persons, especially children.

2. Church structures for the pastoral care of migration in Africa

• Many African Churches are in poor countries and this is reflected in the Church structures for the pastoral care of immigrants who come into the country. Such structures are either poorly-developed or simply non-existent. In the few cases where there is an Episcopal Commission for the pastoral care of migration, its role is not well-defined. This is due to poverty both in terms of financial restrictions as well as in personnel, both priests and religious. Another cause is the lack of awareness of the problem on the part of the Episcopal Conference or the Ordinary. In some cases, the Church is simply absent in the area. In war-torn areas, Church buildings were destroyed. Due to the emergency situation in the continent, resources are usually concentrated in responding to the needs of refugees.

• The scarcity of priests in the local Church makes it difficult to send priests to follow migrants abroad or in refugee camps.

• This is accompanied by the scarcity in financial resources to fund pastoral programs in this field.

• It is necessary to distinguish between social and charitable assistance and pastoral assistance. Although they come hand in hand, social and charitable works do not exhaust the exigencies of pastoral care. It has its evangelization component.

• A great portion of the forces of the Church is used in facing emergencies. While it is necessary to continue doing this (giving bread and blankets), it is however also necessary to communicate ideas, form people and evangelize.

• Given the lack of specific structures for them, migrants are expected to form part of small Christian communities where they receive necessary social and spiritual support. This however becomes particularly difficult when the migrants speak a different language from the natives. Even more so when migrants are of a different religion.

• Some cultures in Africa uphold welcome to migrants. The Church could build on these cultures and teach Christians that it is their responsibility to receive migrants and help them settle.

3. Relationship between Church of origin and local Church

• In Africa, there is practically no collaboration between the migrants' Church of origin and the local Church due to lack of priests and institutionalized structures. At most, migrants refer to their Church of origin only when they need Church documents to receive the sacraments, and sometimes even that is not possible, so that sometimes sacraments are administered to migrants 'sub conditione'.

• In fact, it is not always easy to identify the countries to which African emigrants move. However, once this is achieved, contact is attempted with priests of the migrants' nationality who are in the receiving countries so that they could take care of their fellow-countrymen there. If this is not possible, the local Church and the National Directors in the receiving countries are expected to help out.

• To make up for this deficiency, Bishop Promoters for migration regularly visit their country's emigrants in their host countries.

4. Issues to be addressed

• It is necessary to keep watch against the creation of networks of clandestine migration. However, immediate repatriation of undocumented migrants at the borders without giving them the chance to explain their case is not acceptable although it is often difficult to distinguish between those who are real victims of unbearable situations and those who are simply pretending to be so.

• The fundamental right to freedom of movement leads to the realization of other rights such as the right to education, work, health care and access to courts of law. Any form of restrictions will inhibit the migrant's ability to develop proper coping mechanisms.

• The right to work, particularly the right to self-employment for migrants and refugees, should be guaranteed by both local and national legislation. Restrictions on this right promotes vulnerability. Migrants and refugees should be allowed to work and compete for jobs for which they are qualified.

• Obstacles to integration, like settlements separate from the local population, should be removed. Intermarriage between migrant and host populations is a powerful means in integrating the two cultures and populations.

• The majority often wants to absorb the minority. This has to be avoided.

5. Recommendations
It is considered opportune to state in this section the recommendations expressed by the participants. Some points have already been mentioned in the preceding parts as observations and could thus seem to be a repetition.

  • That the whole Christian community - from the local Ordinary and major religious superiors to the last faithful - in every country be sensitized to the welcome of migrants into the community. A means could be by sending them documents from Rome, like the Messages for World Migrants Day, accompanied by a brief summary that would facilitate their reading.

  • That bishops be informed and sensitized on the concerns of the Episcopal Commission for migration so that they may be encouraged to appoint chaplains and diocesan directors for the pastoral care of migration. Sensitizing major religious Superiors would facilitate the assignment of religious men and women to this specific apostolate.

  • In the Church, the awareness of the significance of the migration phenomenon is lacking. There is a risk of the pastoral care of migration to be considered a secondary and temporary pastoral action which does not belong to the pastoral plan of the diocese. It is important that there be a pastoral care of migrants in the diocesan set-up as there is a pastoral care of the family, of the youth, etc.

  • That the appropriate structure for the pastoral care of migration be set up in the Episcopal Conference if possible, through the creation of an Episcopal Commission for the pastoral care of migration and the appointment of a National Director.

  • That the National Director insist with the Bishops that there be a Diocesan Director for migration (clergy, religious brother or sister, or a lay person) who should collaborate with the other offices of the diocese, e.g., the Office for the family, Office for youth.

  • That there be a national co-ordinator for each ethnic group. Priests taking care of migrant communities should be given the same salary as local priests.

  • That the Diocesan director act as mediator between the local Church and the migrant groups.
    Thus it is important for the National Director to meet the diocesan directors regularly.

  • That financial and other kinds of support be given for the purpose of setting up or promoting the work of the Episcopal Commission for Migration of the African Churches which are usually poor churches.

  • That collaboration between the sending and receiving Churches be fostered. In this regard, it is important to encourage the sending of even a few but good priests to take care of their emigrant countrymen.

  • That bishops of the migrants' country of origin be informed regarding the areas where emigrants from their country are present.

  • That priests and religious who are outside their own country be encouraged to get involved in the pastoral care of their co-nationals abroad.

  • That diocesan priests who are abroad be encouraged to come back to their country of origin to staff the local Church structures for the pastoral care of migration.

  • That pastoral visits by the Bishop Promoter and/or a clergy, religious or lay pastoral worker to emigrant communities abroad be done regularly. This is an effective substitute for the scarcity of priests-chaplains for migrants. Even when the situation is such that in effect nothing can be done, simply being there with them, in an apostolate of presence, is remarkably efficacious.

  • That contact with the Bishops of the country of origin be fostered.

  • That bilateral meetings of the National Directors and clergy, religious and/or lay pastoral agents be held regularly to hear the viewpoints of both sending and receiving Churches and send the minutes to all bishops to inform them.

  • That catechists and other lay pastoral agents be trained for pastoral work among migrants in Africa. This is an important step in making up for the lack of priests and religious men and women that can be involved in the pastoral care of migration.

  • That formation in seminaries include specific training for the pastoral care of migrants. Priests should know how to win the confidence of migrants, especially those in illegal situations, and thus facilitate the latter in opening up to them.

  • That pastoral agents, whether clergy or lay, be open to learning from those for whom they work. They have to let the people be the authors of their lives and not impose on them another mentality.

  • That migrants themselves be involved in reflecting on, planning and working out the pastoral care for migrants.

  • That the "missionary characteristic" of migrant communities be tapped as a resource for evangelization.

  • That migrants be involved in the activities and life of the local Church in the host country.

  • That a distinction be made between social and ecclesial integration. Social integration may take place without ecclesial integration. The local Church is to facilitate the insertion of the migrant in the local community.

  • That education and training, health care and community work be given a high priority in programmes for the benefit of migrants in Africa.

  • That women, youth, children and the disabled be given special attention in formulating programmes for migrants and refugees since they are usually overlooked in policies and plans.

  • That migrants be made aware of their rights.

  • That migrants' rights be defended and advocacy effected.

  • That migrants' language and culture be respected.

  • That programmes of support be worked out

    • for those who refuse to pay a "passeur" or enter the Mafia network so as not to be dependent on it in the future

    • for those who would like to go back home with dignity after being disappointed or disillusioned with their migration experience

  • That counseling programs and therapy for all those who have been traumatized by the experience of war, especially children who grew up during the war, be planned and promoted. For children-soldiers, this is even more urgent since they have to be helped acquire the correct proportion of every event and situation and aided in starting anew.

  • That cooperation between the Church and State regarding questions related to migration, whether voluntary or forced, should be promoted.

  • That preventive measures with respect to emigration be studied and planned.

  • That research be done to know the causes of the problems related to migration.

  • That networking be made with the Catholic universities in Africa.

  • That awareness of the fact that migration is not just a problem but is also a source of enrichment be promoted.

6. General Evaluation
This was the first time that an initiative on the pastoral care of migrants was attempted at the level of the whole African continent. In this report, we collected the main comments contained in the reports and expressed in the discussion and exchange of ideas that followed. They represent important aspects of the question, presented with competence, order and a profound pastoral sense. However, the general picture that is drawn at times appears uncertain and often incomplete.

There is no mention of figures or statistics; the experiences seem to be restricted; co-ordination appears to be limited and the structures hypothetical. Some of these limitations are explained in the course of this report. Others are to be attributed to the fact that the participants were not numerous enough to represent the whole wide extent of the African continent, all the countries comprising it, and the variety of situations and the complexity of the migration phenomenon existing in this immense continent.

On the other hand, it is necessary to underline the interest and the good preparation of each and every participant, demonstrating that among us there are pastoral agents who are determined to tread along the path of an effective pastoral care of migration. There are sufficient grounds to believe that if and when a similar meeting will be held in the near future, the void mentioned above can easily be filled, provided that a wider participation is ensured through a minimum funding program.

There were quite a few elements that led to this conclusion. External aspects demonstrated the seriousness by which each delegate participated in the meeting: punctuality and constant presence from the first to the last session; fidelity and seriousness in preparing a written report regarding the work done in their own country; their comments after every exposition; an attentive, active and lively discussion. It was very clear that the delegates were well-prepared both in general knowledge as well as in the specific sector on the pastoral care of migration.

It was especially striking to see how keenly they followed the discussion regarding some key points in the pastoral care of migration: the definition of migrants based not only on their social condition but also on the fact that, whatever the reason may be, they live in a community whose culture is different from their own; the concept of a specific pastoral care; the various structures required by the different situations; the principal forms of collaboration between the Churches of origin and the Churches of arrival; the definition of a National Director and his specific functions; the responsibilities of the missionary for migrants and his duties with respect to the Church of arrival as well as to the Church of origin, etc.

It was a meeting of a few but committed persons ready to face a phenomenon considered as a structural component of their society. They are well-aware of the waves of mass exodus similar to those taking place in the Great Lakes, but they did not seem to worry too much. These are emergencies that politicians have to bring to an end as soon as possible. They instead feel that the task entrusted to them is a mission that opens to the future of their country and their church. The refugees whom they talk about are those who utilize the term only as a screen behind which the unpleasantness of poverty hides. The participants themselves define them as economic refugees.

The gratitude that was conveyed several times to the Pontifical Council for having given them the opportunity to meet together was neither formal nor pretended, but sincere and heartfelt.

The experience begun in Cape Town needs to be repeated as soon as possible. It is necessary to assure the participation of delegates from the countries that are most severely hit by the migration phenomenon (some twenty of them) through a grant covering the minimum requirements necessary to be able to participate. The groundwork laid down in Cape Town assures the undertaking of a high-level initiative both in terms of a serious commitment as well as in the expected results. It could make Churches aware that a common care for migrants could be one of the most fruitful and privileged reasons for initiating or intensifying cooperation and integration among the Churches in the African continent .