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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N° 91-92, April - August 2003, p. 97-113

“Ecclesia in America”:

Vision and challenges 

for the pastoral care of migrants*


Rev. Fr. Michael A. BLUME, SVD

Undersecretary, Pontifical Council for the

Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

The purpose of this article is to remind ourselves of the broad and profound vision of Ecclesia in America[1] (EA), in which issues of cooperation among local Churches in migration issues should be explored.

1. Pastoral mission of the Church among migrants

Before entering into EA, it is helpful to recall that pastoral care of migrants traditionally represents a complex of many activities proper to the life of the Church, carried out as circumstances permit among migrants, such as

  • evangelization, religious instruction and catechesis
  • liturgical, sacramental, and devotional celebrations
  • spiritual accompaniment and presence before, during and after migration
  • forming and developing community in a foreign land
  • the ministry of welcome in receiving communities
  • advocacy both within the ecclesial community and before political and economic institutions
  • structures and institutions for organizing and consolidating pastoral care.

Pastoral care cannot be reduced to any one of these points but needs to embrace them all if it isto be complete.

Pastoral care is a work of the Christian community, performed by ordained ministers, religious men and women, and by the lay faithful, who are so often at the “front lines” of receiving and dealing with the first needs of migrants.

To be effective it requires formation of pastoral agents, organization of the Christian community and its pastors at all levels, and cooperation with other specialized organizations and ecumenical partners.

2. The pastoral care of migrants in Ecclesia in America - general context

EA affirms all these points about pastoral care, and even more. It does this within a few basic theological and spiritual motifs, into which pastoral reflection and practice in America should now be placed. They will eventually lead us to examine places in EA where migration themes are implied or expressed.

2.1 Santo Domingo and the new evangelization 

What are these motifs? First of all, we need to keep in mind that EA’s roots are in the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the evangelization of America during the Fourth General Assembly of the Latin American Bishops in Santo Domingo held in October 1992. The proclamation of the gospel is thus the basic perspective of the whole document. It flows from the encounter with Jesus Christ and the conversion he calls us to make. Evangelization is a fundamental task and source of new responsibilities. Throughout EA the evangelization that Pope John Paul II speaks about is the new evangeliztion: new in ardor, methods and expression. EA in fact uses the words new and renew more than sixty times in reference to evangelization. Its last chapter is dedicated to the new evangelization. New evangelization is its beginning and end. This basic thrust received a further confirmation in March of this year when the Holy Father, speaking to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America (PCLA), cited EA 67:“Everything planned in the Church must have Christ and his Gospel as its starting‑point.”That is important for all pastoral planning in America.

2.2 The Pilgrim Church 

Second, as we read EA from a migration perspective, something striking is a frequent image of the Church in relation to this evangelizing as we hear in this example: “Realizing the greatness of the gifts received, the pilgrim Church [italics mine] in America wishes to bring the whole of society and every man and woman to share in the riches of faith and communion in Christ” (EA 1). I do not believe that phrase, Pilgrim Church, was inserted there by chance. EA has seven references to the pilgrim Church or to the pilgrimage of the people of God, and all of them are linked to evangelizing themes.

Furthermore, the image of the pilgrim Church has been used in other writings on migration by Pope John Paul II, such as the 1988 Migration day message. This refers to migration as something that “God chose .... to symbolize his plan of salvation for man” (n. 2). In the light of faith, migration has to be understood within salvation history, reminding the Church of her nature as a pilgrim people and being a help “in fulfilling her mandate from the Lord to announce the Good News to all creatures” (Migration Day Message 1989, n.1).

If we keep in mind that the Pilgrim Church in Christ is also sign and instrument of our communion with God and the unity of all men and women, as LG 1 teaches, then we can understand the importance of “increased cooperation between the different particular Churches” (EA 2). It fosters the new evangelization and is aimed at addressing “as part of the new evangelization and as an expression of episcopal communion, the problems relating to justice and solidarity among all the nations of America.” Such problems are undoubtedly part of the world of human mobility, which particular Churches are called to address.

2.3 The unity of America 

The third motif is the unity of America. It is striking that when EA speaks about “America,” it refers not to any particular country but to the whole social, personal, and religious reality of this area of the world. The Pope says:

I asked that the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops reflect on America as a single entity, by reason of all that is common to the peoples of the continent, including their shared Christian identity and their genuine attempt to strengthen the bonds of solidarity and communion between the different forms of the continent's rich cultural heritage. The decision to speak of “America” in the singular was an attempt to express not only the unity which in some way already exists, but also to point to that closer bond which the peoples of the continent seek and which the Church wishes to foster as part of her own mission, as she works to promote the communion of all in the Lord. (EA 5)

That unity is something the Church in countries of America, like Mexico and the USA, experience and desire to develop. There is already a communion,based on something more profound than politics or geography, that needs to grow. All the peoples of this huge continental area are bound together in destiny, economics, politics, and – what is most important – a common call to unity in Christ. That includes a solidarity in the Body of Christ. If one member rejoices or suffers, that impacts on all the others. For that reason your discussions on collaboration and possible joint pastoral statements will be very significant.

3. Reading Ecclesia in America while asking questions about migration 

When we read a book, we usually have some questions in mind, whether implicit or explicit, that orientate us and give purpose to our study. That is certainly the case when we read EA and ask what it tells us about the pastoral care of migrants. In addition to some explicit texts, we will also find many ideas related to migration. For that reason I would like to “walk” as a pilgrim through the Apostolic Exhortation and point out the most important ones.

3.1 Migration implicit in “encounter” texts 

Encountering Jesus Christ in America today is an important theme in EA, which devotes a while chapter to it (chapter two). So we could expect to find something in this section related to immigration. In fact EA speaks about “persons, especially the poor, with whom Christ identifies himself.” This is a reference to Matthew 25's judgment scene, where among them is also the stranger or the foreigner: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt. 25, 35).  Similarly when this chapter refers to the poor and social service (e.g., EA 18), we need to keep in mind that poverty is the daily bread of many migrants in our countries and that the promotion of human rights (e.g., EA 19) also affects their lives.

Globalization, mentioned in EA 20, is a much discussed issue. Even though migration is not mentioned in this section, globalization is related to human mobility and its negative effects.Linked with our concerns are also the discussions of the burden of external debt (EA 22), another factor in the migration equation, and ecological concerns (EA 25), whose abuse can uproot people from their land, creating “ecological refugees.”

3.2 Migration in “communion” texts 

Here we find a series of themes that start at the end of Chapter 3 (on conversion). Its last paragraph recalls many pastoral reflections that link migration with the call of all nations and cultures into the Church, the integration of members of the People of God within each country, and the call of the Church to “be a living sign of reconciled communion, an enduring appeal to solidarity and a witness ever present in our various political, economic and social systems” (EA 32). This is considered “a significant contribution which believers can make to the unity of the American continent.” These believers are members of the Pilgrim Church, whose migrations diffuse a culture of solidarity and communion.

3.2.1 Migration and the Eucharist 

The further related theological perspective is the Church as sign and instrument of communion in the midst of a divided world (EA 33). That happens particularly in the Eucharist, “the living and lasting center around which the entire community of the Church gathers” (EA 34). Sharing in it “must lead to a more fervent exercise of charity.” Here again migration implicitly enters into the discussion in terms of solidarity and welcome of believers of all nations in the eucharistic community.

3.2.2 Migration and ministry 

In this context is a reflection on the priest, who as shepherd and minister of the Eucharist is also called to be a sign of unity. Migration easily comes to mind when we read: “As pastors of the People of God in America, priests must also be alert to the challenges of the world today and sensitive to the problems and hopes of their people, sharing their experiences and growing, above all, in solidarity towards the poor” (EA 39).The challenges and problems include human mobility as a sign of our times. That same section urges using the talents of “priests who show an aptitude for special ministries,” one of which would surely be pastoral care of people on the move. The next section then raises the question of formation of priests (EA 40), which, according to an official document co-authored by our Pontifical Council [2], encourages preparing seminarians for ministry among people on the move as a normal part of their formation. If there are well formed priests to implement them, parishes will be renewed as “welcoming and fraternal” (EA 41) towards migrants.

Other ministries of evangelizing and promoting unity are also explained. Consecrated life (EA 43) gets special mention for its history of evangelizing and is considered “enormously important” today. It is to become “generous service in the spreading of God’s kingdom.” In that regard it is good to recall the 1986 letters regarding the involvement of religious in human mobility [3] in faithfulness to the charisms of the various congregations. 

3.2.3 Migration and lay faithful 

Due reflection is also given to the twofold ministry of lay faithful (EA 44): (1) in their primary mission of shaping the world according to God’s will and (2) in carrying out particular intra-ecclesial ministries. Reflecting on the texts, we can see that both dimensions can influence the life of migrants, e.g., (1) at the level of the Catholic contribution to political, cultural, and professional life that touches migrants in so many ways and (2) in the intra-ecclesial service of parish-related ministries of welcoming, catechesis, pastoral visits, and the like.

Reflection on ministry of lay faithful leads EA to reflect on specific groups among them. In the first place are women, who have their specific contribution to make to the progress of humanity. Ministry among migrants has to discover and promote it. For example, in the literature on forced migration, there are studies about the advantages of having women in charge of distribution of good and supplies, with advantages in nutrition and health, not to mention their contribution to reconciliation and peace-making. 

On the other hand, when EA 45 mentions the “feminine side of poverty,” it is legitimate to refer this to the experience of many women who are migrants themselves or wives of migrants, with all the consequences. In this context the 1994 Migration Day Message on women migrants comes to mind. While both the message and EA appeal for respect for women, they also emphasize the image of women migrants not merely as objects of compassion but as contributors to civilization in America and evangelizers.

3.2.4 Migration and families 

Families follow next. Perhaps the section of EA 46 that connects best with pastoral concerns of migrants is where it speaks of the “urgent need of a broad catechetical effort regarding the Christian ideal of conjugal communion and family life, including a spirituality of fatherhood and motherhood. Greater pastoral attention must be given to the role of men as husbands and fathers, as well as to the responsibility which they share with their wives for their marriage, the family and the raising of their children.” We are here in one of the most crucial pastoral problems in migration: the unity of the family, how to preserve and promote it even when spouses are separate. Furthermore the role of husbands and fathers is mentioned, which is further complicated when the father is a migrant who only occasionally visits his wife and children. That certainly requires a very special attention both at home and in the country of migration.

It would also be good to read this section in the light of the 1993 Message for World Migration Day, which is on the family. A further perspective is a political and humanitarian one that the our Pontifical Council has promoted, the 1990 Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families. The Declaración del Primer Taller Nacional de Capacitación para la Pastoral de los Migrantes, held in September 2002 in Mexico, makes an appeal for its ratification and implementation. 

Mexico recently ratified this convention that intends, among other things, to protect family unity and urge governments to facilitate keeping families together even when they migrate.  Now that the Convention seems to have the ratifications needed for it to become international law, it gives the signatories a basis for promoting this family interest among their migrant labor forces. Even if most receiving countries are probably still far from ratification, there is still the pressure which Catholic politicians and voters can be encouraged to exercise to protect migrants and their families in the spirit of EA 27 and 44. The importance of families in America, including those affected by migration, comes out in the final words of EA 76, which is a “Prayer to Jesus Christ for the families of America.”

3.2.5 Young people and children: potential migrants 

Young people and children are part of family life, discussed in EA 47-48, and potential subjects of migration. It is good to keep in mind that the percentage of the population aged 29 and younger is 68% in Mexico and 55% in the USA – a significant number of people. Furthermore, “Young people ... quite often ... lack the conditions needed to take advantage of their abilities and realize their aspirations.” A result of this, in addition to the withdrawal and violence mentioned in EA 47, is also migration, occasioned by “unemployment and lack of prospects for the future.” The Church’s “pastoral and missionary commitment to young people,” whether at home on in a country of migration, needs to also keep in mind their potential and actual mobility. “There is need for pastoral outreach to young people wherever they are found: in ... workplace, the countryside, with appropriate adaptation to their particular inclinations.” 

In that context EA 47 speaks about pastoral outreach to the changing world of young people at the parish, diocesan, inter-diocesan and international levels. People who migrate generally start young, when they have the energy and health to endure such an ordeal. The prime years of their lives are taken up with this experience. Thus pastoral outreach and accompaniment are very important for them. Young people also came up for special mention in the March 2001 meeting of the PCLA. The Holy Father spoke about evangelizing young people: “In them are founded the hopes and the expectation of a future of greater communion and solidarity for the Church and societies in America.” Offering them the good new when they arrive as migrants, whether lawfully or otherwise, is important. Nor should the potential of young people as evangelizers be underestimated, including as migrants who evangelize. That, of course, requires a formation to prepare them for such a mission.

Regarding children, when EA 48 speaks about the “painful condition of many children throughout America ...” we might recall children in families where a parent has migrated, leaving them with insufficient parental and spiritual support, where family structures are disturbed to the detriment of children. We return again to the issue of pastoral care of families with members who have migrated.

3.3 Migration and solidarity texts 

Chapter five, entitled “The Path to Solidarity,” contains material dealing most directly with migration issues. Its approach, however, is not based simply on humanitarian ideals. Solidarity is rooted in communion with Christ and in Him with our brothers and sisters. This communion bears fruit in service of neighbor. It is not about single acts either but is intended to be part of a culture of solidarity (EA 52). That is a very striking phrase, especially when we consider that culture involves a whole dynamic system for interacting as a human group to respond to the many dimensions of its environment whether social, physical, climatic or religious. In its deepest sense that involves the psychology of a society, its assumptions, values, and starting points in reasoning, reacting and motivating.[4]  

The first concern linked with this culture of solidarity is directed to “timely initiatives that support the poor and the outcast.” The first specific group of this category named by EA 52 is “refugees forced to leave their villages and lands in order to flee violence.” This might lead us to think of people fleeing from a far off place like Colombia, some of whom have undoubtedly reached Mexico and the USA, even if illegally. In addition to these, we should not forget internal refugees (or internally displaced people) either. Finally among irregular migrants, it is not unusual to find some people who flee persecution. These are, for example, boat people, mainly Chinese, who arrive illegally on our shores. With the human rights record of China being what it is, it should not be surprising to find among them people persecuted for political views, for being practicing Catholics, or for disobedience to China’s one child per family policy.

In the case of such people, who are even more marginalized because of their irregular legal situation, we can understand why the evangelizaton of cultures is so important (see EA 70). It is needed for getting people in host countries to rise above populist political reaction to issues like illegality to a higher level of asking why people take such desperate steps in the first place. Here is the context where, for example, advocacy based on the dignity of the person, regardless of legal standing, can be understood. 

This is the context for a further mention of conversion (EA 53) and the insistence of spreading the social doctrine of the Church as “an authentic pastoral priority” (EA 54). That is a part of evangelizing. It is interesting to note that the Holy Father’s Messages for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees regularly involve an interpretation of migrants’ situations in the light of the Church’ social teaching. That is also part of pastoral letters on migration and will hopefully be part of the future Catechism of Catholic Social Doctrine mentioned in EA 54.

The last paragraph of this section mentions the “right to dignified labor.” In this we certainly recognize something closely connected with migration, both as one of its causes and as something that migrants should have in their country of arrival. From this there follows logically the section on the “Globalization of Solidarity” (EA 55), which, among other things, involves collaboration to reduce the negative effects of globalization, which are also felt in the world of migrants.

The rest of chapter five is dedicated to principals and some serious social problems and challenges, all of which can be read in the light of migrants’ experiences. We might think, for example, how the foundation of human rights, the dignity of the human person (EA 57) can be easily ignored, owing to a person’s irregular legal status or ethnic or national origin. When EA 58 states that the “goal of the Church is to ensure that no one is marginalized,” we might recall the text Pope John Paul II often quotes, “In the Church no one is a stranger.” That is also the title of theDeclaración del Primer Taller Nacional de Capacitación para la Pastoral de los Migrantesof September 2001: En la Iglesia Nadie Es Extranjero”.

Other realities mentioned in this chapter, like suffocating foreign debt (EA 59), corruption (EA 60), drugs (EA 61), the arms face (62), the culture of death and society dominated by the powerful (63), and discrimination against indigenous peoples and Afro-Americans (EA 64) are all factors in motivating people to migrate or in forcing them to do so as in the case of refugees. The Church’s evangelizing role in responding to these challenges and the solidarity it nurtures helps rebuilds lost “social capital,” which in turn can reduce the need to migrate.

4. Migration texts 

After looking at many implicit references to migration, we can now examine two other texts. The first is EA 65 on the question of migrants. The other is EA 21 on growing urbanization, which results largely from internal migrations.

4.1 The question of migration 

First, let us look at EA 65, a few lines at time.

In its history, America has experienced many immigrations, as waves of men and women came to its various regions in the hope of a better future. The phenomenon continues even today, especially with many people and families from Latin American countries who have moved to the northern parts of the continent, to the point where in some cases they constitute a substantial part of the population. They often bring with them a cultural and religious heritage that is rich in Christian elements. 

This text recalls the basic reality of most Americans: an immigrant past and the reasons why immigrants came in the first place: “the hope for a better future.” Pastorally it seems important to not let the memory of an immigrant past be lost. This is also because it helps understand and form attitudes towards what is then mentioned: migration towards el norte, the large number of Latin Americans there, and the rich cultural and religious heritage they bring.  There is an echo here of the National Catholic Conference of Bishops’ (U.S.A.) Committee on Migration’s 1999 statement, “From Newcomers to Citizens: All Come Bearing Gifts” as well as much of the content of the most recent one, Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity.  

The Church is well aware of the problems created by this situation and is committed to spare no effort in developing her own pastoral strategy among these immigrant people, in order to help them settle in their new land and to foster a welcoming attitude among the local population, in the belief that a mutual openness will bring enrichment to all.

Here is a basic statement about welcome and integration as something that benefits both migrants and hosts. They are frequent themes in the Holy Father’s Messages for the World Day for Migrants. The Church’s efforts need to be in a pastoral strategy. The pastoral aspect is its special contribution. It is good to read this in the light of EA 73, asking to what extent pastoral strategies need to be reworked: “It is necessary to ask whether a pastoral strategy directed almost exclusively to meeting people's material needs has not in the end left their hunger for God unsatisfied.” There is a well-known temptation to get overly involved in social work to the neglect of the spiritual. Our Council’s experience is that when we put emphasis on the pastoral, the humanitarian aspect follows quite easily. However, when an approach concentrates on aid, it can be difficult to later on try to recover the pastoral aspect. Promoting a strategy on things like what I mentioned at the beginning of the talk is the context in which we can ourselves better ways of expression solidarity through humanitarian aid.

Church communities will not fail to see in this phenomenon a specific call to live an evangelical fraternity and at the same time a summons to strengthen their own religious spirit with a view to a more penetrating evangelization. With this in mind, the Synod Fathers recalled that “the Church in America must be a vigilant advocate, defending against any unjust restriction the natural right of individual persons to move freely within their own nation and from one nation to another. Attention must be called to the rights of migrants and their families and to respect for their human dignity, even in cases of non‑legal immigration”.

Here we have the church’s role in advocacy. It flows not from ideological positions but from “evangelical fraternity.” Specifically it concerns three issues. First, there is the defense against “unjust restrictions” of movement. The social teaching of the Church recognizes the right of states to limit migration, but it is not an unlimited one. It cannot be based, e.g., only on a political need to maintain a certain standard of living. Second, we have the promotion of the rights of migrants and their families. That is almost the title of the 1990 UN convention mentioned above. More profoundly it corresponds to the 1986 and 1993 Messages for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees: “The family, in fact, seems to be the most fragile and vulnerable of structures and the point at which the most thorny and negative aspects of migration concentrate their attack“ (1986, 1). Third, advocacy for human dignity includes affirming its centrality even when papers are not in order.

Migrants should be met with a hospitable and welcoming attitude which can encourage them to become part of the Church's life, always with due regard for their freedom and their specific cultural identity. (EA 65)

Finally we are back to the issues of welcoming and integration of people of other cultures into the host Christian community.

4.2 Urbanization and migration 

EA 21 speaks of a “constant exodus from the countryside to the city.” Approximately 75% of Mexico’s population, for example, lives in cities. That results not only from natural growth in population but also from internal migrations. These people too are among the uprooted, who cross cultural borders as they move into urban areas. When their hopes of success in the city prove illusive, they go through experiences similar to international migrants. For them too the pastoral presence of the Church is needed to offer alternatives to the sects, crime, and exploitation.

5. Mission and evangelization in America 

The final chapter is an inclusion, which restates and develops the evangelization theme in the first chapter, this time with a strong emphasis on the role of lay faithful and their formation and on evangelizing centers of formation and education.

In this context EA 73 on the challenge of sects may be of special interest to us since migrants are often the prey of such groups. The 1990 Migration Day Message is on this subject. We know how vulnerable newly arrived migrants are: “No one can deny the urgency of prompt evangelizing efforts aimed at those segments of the People of God most exposed to proselytism by the sects.” The first group mentioned by EA 73 (paragraph 2) in this connection are immigrants and the places where they often are, the peripheries of cities, far from pastoral care. The approach cannot just be with the offer of material aid, as we just mentioned, but needs to make the first offers of spiritual benefits.A necessary way for dealing with the phenomenon is “for the faithful to move from a faith of habit, sustained perhaps by social context alone, to a faith which is conscious and personally lived.”

It is noteworthy that Pope John Paul II raised the question of sects in the March 2001 PCLA meeting, which makes action in this area all the more necessary:

Resolute pastoral action is essential for dealing with this serious problem, by reviewing the pastoral methods used, strengthening the structures of communion and mission, and making the most of “the evangelizing possibilities of a purified popular religiosity”(Ecclesia in America, n. 73). In this regard, you know how important is the presence of evangelizers, since wherever priests, religious or lay people are dedicated to the apostolate, sects do not thrive. Although faith is God's gift, it cannot be instilled or maintained without the help of evangelizers.[5]

In this connection EA 74 on mission ad gentes is important for migration. Migrants to America from Asia are explicitly mentioned as a sector of humanity that does know Christ. “The program of a new evangelization on the American continent ... cannot be restricted to revitalizing the faith of regular believers, but must strive as well to proclaim Christ where he is not known.” If we take the word known in its full biblical sense, then it indicates a relationship of faith and love with Jesus Christ, who is made known by the love his brethren have for one another. When we read that in the light of migration realities today, there is need for a lot of love of Christ and his brethren in those situations, a lot of good news that people are precious in God’s sight whether they have a valid visa or not. While there is a traditional and still valid geographical approach to mission ad gentes, it needs to be complemented by attention to those situations, even in nominally Christian countries, where the Good News of Jesus is not experienced or not even known. That is often the world of migration. In welcoming, for example, non-Christian migrants that arrive from Asia, we should not forget to explain to them the reasons for our hope (see 1 Pet. 3,15).

6. Cooperation 

The meetings of representatives of the Episcopal Conferences of Mexico and the United States on migration issues have as a goal the identification of potential collaboration. In other words, this is a question oftrying to enter more deeply into a specific way of practicing ecclesial communion between two conferences of bishops. 

EA is a definite encouragement for such a project, for it breathes a spirit of communion and encourages concrete expressions of it. Its basis is the “the personal encounter with the Lord” which brings “a renewal of the Church ... as sisters and neighbors to each other.” Its goal is “that the saving work of Christ may continue in the history of America with ever greater effect” and “there will emerge an ever increasing dedication to the new evangelization of America” (EA 7).

The Synod for America encouraged “communion transcending individual Conferences of Bishops,” development of structures for dialogue between Conferences, particularly through “inter‑American gatherings, such as those sponsored by the Episcopal Conferences of various American countries, as an expression of practical solidarity and a chance to study common challenges to evangelization in America.” It also spoke about establishing “special commissions to explore more deeply issues which concern America as a whole” and explicitly mentions immigration as one of the particularly urgent areas. Such work in commission should result in “projects involving cooperation and joint intervention in questions of greater importance, especially those affecting the poor”(EA 37), among whom, as is evident, are many migrants, refugees, and displaced people.

Finally, the last paragraph of EA 65 speaks explicitly about “cooperation between the dioceses from which they [migrants] come and those in which they settle, also through specific pastoral structures provided for in the legislation and praxis of the Church.” The pastoral structures and legislation certainly includes “classic” like De pastorale migratorum cura[6]as well as provisions in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.[7] These include norms that regard dioceses of origin of migrants and of destination, types of ministry, formation of chaplains for migrants, and actual cooperation among conferences needs further development. All these have “proved extremely beneficial” in ensuring “the most adequate and complete pastoral care possible.” Besides pastoral care, there is also the overriding challenge of evangelization: “The Church in America must be constantly concerned to provide for the effective evangelization of those recent arrivals who do not yet know Christ” (EA 65). Who reaches them first, the Catholic Church or the sects?

7. Looking towards the future

There should be no doubt that the framework of EA cannot be overlooked in planning pastoral strategies among Episcopal Conferences. EA represents an important collegial declaration of the Holy Father who gives expression to the great pastoral concerns of the bishops of America as they move into the twenty-first century. As such it is an indispensable point of reference for our pastoral reflections that touch the American continent. What are some of the issues it points us to?

First, we are challenged to offer, as the primary and indispensable part of our solidarity, the word of God, the Good News of Jesus Christ, to migrants. Our pastoral presence cannot define itself only in terms of advocacy or humanitarian or legal aid. There is a spiritual food, Jesus Christ, that builds up communities and persons, works reconciliation, and pushes the Christian community to new and courageous expressions of solidarity and love. Without the word of the gospel at the center of our actions and speech, Christian communities and associations risk becoming simplywell-meaning non-governmental organizations.

 Second, the Church will better make its particular contribution to dealing with migration in America if more and more priests and other pastoral agents receive a suitable formation for this apostolate. That is not, in the first place, about doing university level migration studies, but about assuring that the challenge of human mobility receives its due place in the ordinary curriculum in seminaries and other institutes of pastoral formation. That is already happening in many places in our two countries. The emphasis on formation and education in EA as well as in the Carta Pastoral del Encuentro con Jesucristo a la Solidaridad con Todos of the Mexican Episcopal Conference is a stimulus to taking formation a step further.

Third, as part of the Church’s contribution to Christianizing and humanizing the movements of people, we might ask if more can be done for the religious preparation of people who are planning to migrate. In some countries there are Church organized programs for potential migrants, which involve giving information and formation for meeting a new religious and cultural environment abroad. Such programs are also a way of forming catechists and religious leaders among migrants who can keep the consolation of faith alive even in difficult moments. Such programs can also network with parishes and Catholic organizations in the country of destination to assure having Catholic points of contact and welcome there. A possible effect of such networks is that the information provided can encourage some people to reconsider their decisions to migrant.

Fourth, we can ask how it is possible to assure the presence of more lay pastoral agents in the midst of migrant populations as way of protection against the sects and new religious movements. That involves both lay leaders who are migrants themselves as well as people in the Church of arrival who seek contact with migrant groups.

Fifth, regarding structures of cooperation referred to in EA, the provisions made in the 1969 instruction of the Congregation for Bishops, De pastorali migratorum cura (1969), remain valid even if they are in need of updating. It also recommends consultations of this kind between Episcopal conferences (n. 23.5), assigning of suitable priests from dioceses to an Episcopal Conference for ministry among migrants (n. 27, 31.1, 35-37), and the ministry of religious institutes (chapter 6) and of lay people (chapter 7) among migrants.

Sixth, the human costs of migration are certainly a motive for using the authority (the biblical exousia) of the Church as expert in humanity to call on the governments of Mexico and the U.S.A. to protect migrants, reduce trafficking, allow more openings for legal migration, and deal more effectively with factors that prompt people to migrate. Our Catholic media can also help in letting the public understand the human costs of migration, which are so easy to ignore.    

There is a notable coincidence of migration concerns in EA and those of recent pastoral letters of Episcopal Conferences of Mexico and the USA. This meeting is a step forward in putting into practice the recommendations and desires that the Episcopal conferences of our two countries already consider their own. The task is long term, as we can see even in the language of EA, which speaks about paths to conversion, solidarity and communion. The completion of these efforts is in the hand of God, while they continually challenge the Church in America. We pray that the Spirit of the Risen Lord, who begins and completes all good works will also bless our efforts of these days and our follow-up as we continue fashioning the new millennium in the name of Jesus.
* Address to the Joint Meeting of the Migration Commissions of the Episcopal Conferences of Mexico and the USA (Mexico City, 21 April 2001), convened to discuss the first stages of the composition of the joint Pastoral Letter, Juntos en el camino de la esperanza: ya no somos extranjeros.

[1] John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America (22 January 1999).
[2] Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education and the Pontifical Commission for Migration, “The Pastoral Care of Human Mobility in the formation of Future Priests” (letter of 25 January 1986, protocol n. 205/85). 
[3] Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants, “Joint Instruction: Invitation to pastoral commitment on behalf of migrants and refugees” (1987).
[4] L. Luzbetak, The Church and Cultures (Maryknoll 1988) 74.
[5] Address of the Holy Father to the Participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America , 23 March 2001.
[6] It also recommends consultations of this kind between Episcopal conferences (n. 23.5), assigning of suitable priests from dioceses to an episcopal conference for ministry among migrants (n. 27, 31.1, 35-37), and the ministry of religious institutes (chapter 6) and of lay people (chapter 7) among migrants.
[7] Some of the relevant canons, grouped according to themes, are: 518, 515.2 ; 107.1 1110, 1109; 516.1; 517.1; 564, 568; 372.2; 383.1, 771.1; 383.2; 469; 495, 497; 511, 512.2; 447; 451; 294-297; 257.2, 271; 681-682.