Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
People on the Move - N° 90, December 2002, p. 77-83.
and Refugees in the World*
E. Archbishop Stephen Fumio HAMAO,
of the Pontifical Council for the
Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
There are many things I
could say about the estimated 200,000,000 migrants, refugees, and displaced
people -- or about one person in forty-five – throughout the world. Your
interest, however, surely goes beyond statistics and definitions by giving
names, faces and stories to the figures. It is much more about how the Church,
and your Congregation in particular, can be and is present among people who,
voluntarily or by force, set off on a difficult “pilgrimage”.
Their hope is to find another place where they can settle, temporarily
or even permanently, in dignity and begin a new life.
For many of them, as we know, that new place remains elusive.
For many migrant workers, the expiration of a contract or a
work-related accident can mean being discarded as something that is no longer
useful. Likewise, in the world of
refugees, there is a disconcerting tendency for a temporary flight from danger
to become an indefinite exile without any hope for change.
It is encouraging to
note that Religious Congregations are including activities among migrants and
refugees in their planning, in some cases even with the backing of general
chapters. Surely one of the basic steps in the continual renewal of
religious life is a careful attention to the “signs of the times,” which
the Church is called to scrutinize and interpret in the light of the Gospel.
The special role of the Religious in this field was also recognized at a
meeting which our Council organized in 1998. It called for the founding of
“lay, religious or presbyterial associations with a special charism for the
pastoral care of migrants and itinerant people, of refugees and forcibly
displaced persons” in Africa.
forty years ago, the Vatican II Council Fathers said the following, in the
context of the signs of the times: “It is also noteworthy how many men are
being induced to migrate on various counts, and are thereby changing their
manner of life. Thus a man's ties with his fellows are constantly being
multiplied, and at the same time ‘socialization’ brings further ties,
without however always promoting appropriate personal development and truly
That statement of Gaudium et Spes was prophetic and has lost none of
its importance for today.
the presence of the Religious in the world of migrants and refugees
In 1986, the
predecessor of our Pontifical Council, the then Pontifical Commission for the
Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, organized an International
Meeting for Religious on the theme: “Religious and the Pastoral Care of
People on the Move.”
As a follow-up it published, jointly with the Congregation for the Religious,
two documents that are still relevant even for us, today. The first is a
“Joint Instruction: A Call to Pastoral Commitment in Favour of Migrants and
Refugees.” The second is a circular letter: “To all Religious throughout
the World.” Allow me just to point out some of their main thoughts.
our point of view, your Congregation is certainly moving in the right
direction by the reflection you are doing these days.
Studying the problem and
taking fresh impulses from your experiences, wherein I believe the Holy Spirit
is at work, will help your Congregation contribute to the life of God’s
People as a whole. In this regard, I would also like to mention something we
have often stressed in our discussions, namely, formation towards the pastoral
care of human mobility. This sign of the time has to become a part of the way
we think and feel. The privileged place where those attitudes can be
cultivated is in formation programs. I do not mean multiplying courses in
program that are sometimes already too heavy.
Rather, it is about giving this sign of the time its rightful place in
academic and pastoral formation. As a help in this reflection, I am also
leaving copies of a document we have often recommended over the last years,
the 1986 “Letter on the Formation of Future Priests for Human Mobility.”
It is not difficult to extend, its considerations mutatis mutandis, to
issues of basic and ongoing formation of religious men and women.
of the Church’s presence among migrants and refugees
few years ago, an Official of our Pontifical Council was on visit to the
Oxford Programme for Refugee Studies, where he also met its Founder. In their
conversations, she told him something surprising, to some extent unexpected.
Speaking out of a vast academic and field experience, she said something like
this: “Don’t lose your identity as Church. Don’t become just another
NGO.” While that was certainly not our first reflection on identity, this
exhortation was particularly encouraging precisely because it came from
outside our usual ecclesial circles. The question of our identity is something
important, and I would like to dedicate a few minutes to it.
me illustrate the problem with a couple of examples. When migrants and
refugees get into the media, they are commonly linked with two issues: (1) the
arrival and control of irregular movements of people and the political and
social psychology associated with it; and (2) the need for generous
assistance, as we might find in the advertising of UNHCR or the appeals of
Caritas. In fact, people oftentimes ask: What do you do for these poor people? Their question presumes that our service means distribution
of humanitarian aid.
I do not want to play
down these issues. Illegality has many consequences. And there is no doubt
about the need of many migrants and refugees to receive emergency assistance
as an expression of our solidarity. What I would like to add, however, is that
this is not sufficient to describe the Church’s presence, or the presence of
religious men and women, among migrants and refugees.
Allow me to add another
observation. When we consider the vast number of migrants of other religions
we meet, we cannot avoid the world of inter-religious dialogue and the
discovery and appreciation of other religions, their values and
spiritualities. That leads us to justly put emphasis on sensitivity for the
convictions of such migrants, thus avoiding anything that gives the impression
of proselytism or of taking advantage of people in vulnerable situations, on
respectful dialogue, and on the witness of charity. All of this is correct
and, in fact, obligatory for us. At the same time, we also touch a dimension
of our identity as Church, which exists to share the good news of Jesus
Christ. Our just concerns can sometimes block us in carrying out this mission,
which is not an option among others in the Church. Here, too, we need to
constantly reflect and look for ways of respectfully giving an account of the
hope that is in us (see 1 Peter 3:15), not simply in the sense of
sharing “common values” but rendering explicit testimony on how the love
of Christ, the Living and Risen One, urges us to be among migrants and
refugees. The Holy Spirit does the rest in his own mysterious time and ways.
observations, it should be clear that we are dealing with a
pastoral-missionary presence. It is a complex of activities and ways of being that focus on
the deepest dimensions of communities and individual human beings. When we
deal with Christian migrants and refugees, this presence explicitly touches on
everything that affects life in Christ, the means for growing into Him,
including worship and celebration of the sacraments, and day to day progress
as Body of Christ. Thus, without being exhaustive, it includes
It is important for us
to keep all these dimensions in mind, as well as the motivation behind our
activities, which is basically about the love of Christ and his Holy Spirit
dwelling in our hearts that urges us on (see 2 Cor 5:15 and Eph 3:19).
Reducing the presence and activities of the Christian community to only one or
the other of these dimensions distorts the meaning of our presence.
me give another example of what I mean. Most religious Institutes have a
Commission or a similar structure for justice and peace, which does important
work in keeping the religious attuned to issues that today are more crucial
than ever. In many Congregations, questions of forced and voluntary migration
go to that Commission. It may provide good information regarding causes of
population movements, the issues of human rights and laws that are behind
them, and various actions that come under the expression “advocacy.” All
of this is necessary. But what is important to keep in mind is that advocacy
and related justice and peace activities do not exhaust the way Church needs
to be concretely present among migrants and refugees. We need to keep these
issues in the wider perspective of the many activities listed above.
of the power of the Cross
These observations bring us face to face with the particular nature of pastoral-missionary presence in the world of human mobility. They also put pastoral agents into a certain crisis, especially when he or she is from a culture that values efficiency and “getting things done.” Pastoral-missionary care often means dealing with the symptoms and consequences of experiences of human mobility. The family that needs resettling, the child separated from parents in a chaotic flight as refugees, the migrant who has to tell her story over and over again without solving her problem – all these are symptoms of something deeper that oftentimes we can hardly control. We may know, better than the victims themselves, why they are in such a situation, but they will hardly be consoled by our analysis. While we need to insist with organizations and governments to help find emergency and lasting solutions, there is often little more that we can do than live with them their experience of helplessness. Getting at the causes that are so evident goes beyond our possibilities. The only thing we may be able to offer is our solidarity, which is no doubt an experience of the Cross. It is not by chance that the prayers and rituals that accompany that experience include the sign of the cross. This is a presence that clearly relies not on what we succeed in doing but on the power of the Cross in us – “the power of powerlessness”.
valuable pastoral orientation for migration comes every year in the Holy
Father’s Messages for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. On the list
you will note the many pastoral reflections that Pope John Paul II has shared
with the whole world. Our experience is that these messages are greatly
appreciated by the various Episcopal Conferences throughout the world. Today,
when bishops and their Commissions for Migration take positions that go
contrary to popularist perceptions of migration, promoted by the media and the
politicians, the Messages have often been a support for pastors in their
serious efforts to discern the sign of the times. They deal with the Church
and refugees, often with themes related to your seminar this week
(internationality and inculturation), pastoral care, the issue of irregular
migrations, the identity and the
dignity of the individual migrant, the family in migration, the problem of
proselytism and migrants, and migrant women.
Let me just offer you a
sample of the themes of the most recent messages. For example, the 1997
Message reflects on the question of the missionary dimension of presence among
migrants. In the end we will be judged on love, on the acts of charity
we have done to the ‘least’ of our brothers and sisters (cf. Mt
25:31-45) as well as on the courage and fidelity with which we have
explicitly witnessed to Christ. This is important for understanding our
identity in the world of migration.
1998 Message lays strong emphasis on the relation of communities and their
pastors to Christ. “For the Christian, acceptance of and solidarity with the
stranger are not only a human duty of hospitality, but a precise demand of
fidelity itself to Christ's teaching. In this regard, it cites the example of
Blessed Giovanni Battista Scalabrini.
1999 Message emphasizes the parish, “which etymologically means a house
where the guest feels at ease, welcomes all and discriminates against none,
for no one there is an outsider” (no. 6).
In that way, parishes contribute to the catholicity of the Church.
The Message for 2000 is
about the "year of the Lord's favor" (cf. Lk 4: 18) and the
beginning of a new era of brotherhood and solidarity.
In line with the conversion motif of the Jubilee Year, it notes that
“the misunderstandings that foreigners sometimes experience show the urgent
need for a transformation of structures and a change of mentality” (no. 1).
Message for 2001 again takes up the evangelizing mission of the Church with
respect to the vast and complex phenomenon of migration and mobility and how
the pastoral care of migrants is a way of accomplishing the mission of the
The Message for 2002
concerns “Migration and Inter-religious Dialogue,” especially the dialogue
of life that builds everyday relationships between migrants and hosts of
different religions and thus contributes to real peace. The Church is a
privileged space where that dialogue can take place.
Finally, we are waiting
for the Message for 2003, which will be on the Church, discrimination against
migrants, and xenophobia.
All these are rich
texts that require time for reflection and prayer, which I warmly recommend to
you, as individuals and communities.
are a few reflections, which I hope will useful for your meeting.
I take the occasion to ask you to continue this contact with our
Pontifical Council. We would also be happy to receive a delegation from your
Congregation and offer you the possibility of a more in- depth dialogue with
the various sectors of the pastoral care of human mobility.
* Talk to the Mission Secretaries of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, Rome, October 23, 2002.
 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants, Three 1998 Consultations for a More Coordinated Pastoral Response of the Church in Africa to the Present Refugee Crisis, Vatican City, 1999, p. 10.
 GS 6
 Vatican, 4-6 December 1986. See Proceedings in People on the Move, no. 48, July 1987.