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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N° 93,  December 2003, pp. 17-20

Presentation of the Congress


Card. Stephen Fumio HAMAO

President of the Pontifical Council for the

Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

Human mobility is an age-old phenomenon. From time immemorial, human beings have left their homes to look for greener pastures or more abundant game. At times, they have fled to escape the violence of nature or others’ hostility. Today, the phenomenon has acquired world-wide dimensions, especially with modern-day globalization which sometimes almost pushes people to cross the frontiers of nation-states with or without authorization. Moreover, wars, violence, persecution, the violation of human rights, terrorism underlie the flight of refugees and internally displaced people. All this obviously brings with it untold suffering and pain, problems that need urgent solutions.

Today’s challenges in the world of migrants and refugees will soon be discussed more extensively by Ms. Gabriella Rodriguez, UN Rapporteur for the Human Rights of Migrants, and by Prof. Stefano Zamagni, President of the International Catholic Migration Commission. 

In this context, the Holy Mother Church cannot remain indifferent. She wants to share the joys and the grief of all migrants and refugees, there where they are, and be with them in their search for a better and safer life, worthy of being children of God. Thus, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Member of our Pontifical Council, will present to us the pastoral challenges involved in such a complex situation. 

To be able to respond adequately to these challenges, the present Congress will concentrate primarily on the pastoral aspects of the plight of migrants and refugees. This is its rationale following the four World Congresses that preceded it. The last Congress held in 1998, toward the end of the last millennium, for example, examined more closely the socio-economic and political aspects of the phenomenon.

 Today’s reality, including the world of migrants and refugees, is beset not just by any evil. As the Holy Father once affirmed, we are before Evil with a capital E. Against it, human forces alone, however competent or powerful they may be, will never be effective or sufficient. There is only one force that can overcome this Evil: the power of Good, the Supreme Good, that is, only God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This does not exempt anyone of us, individually or as a group, from doing his/her part in seeking a concrete remedy to every painful situation. It requires taking Christ as our ally, indeed the best ally, in our daily endeavour in favor of migrants and refugees, and putting all our trust in his power. 

Crossing the threshold of the Third Millennium, the Holy Father accompanied us with the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte and invited all the faithful, Bishops, Clergy and Lay, to formulate resolutions and guidelines for action, profiting from the grace received from the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. With deep wisdom, Pope John Paul II warned us not to believe that, faced with the great challenges of our time, we would find the solution in some formula. “No,” he said, “we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person” (NMI 29), Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only Saviour of the world, yesterday, today and forever, who gave the assurance that He will always be with us till the end of time (cf. Mt 28:20).

Thus, in this present Congress, in line with the Holy Father’s thought, we decided to start afresh from Christ (cf. NMI 29) and renew in Him our pastoral programme for migrants and refugees for the coming years. “It is not … a matter of inventing a ‘new programme’” – the Pope emphasized – because “the programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition [of the Church]… It has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem.” This is also our programme among migrants and refugees. Obviously, it does not change with variations in times and cultures, although these must be taken into account for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication. What do change, therefore, are the pastoral initiatives which must be “adapted to the circumstances of each community” (ibid.). For this reason, a competent representative, from each of the five continents, will illustrate to us a more detailed regional picture of the phenomenon of migrants and refugees. This is because it  is ultimately in the local Churches “that specific features of a detailed pastoral plan can be identified – goals and methods, formation and enrichment of the people involved, the search for the necessary resources – which will enable the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mould communities and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture.” (ibid.). 

Thus, we shall “start afresh from Christ” by looking at society and culture according to the vision of the Church, and also by recalling its teachings regarding human mobility. For the first aspect we shall be aided by Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, while for the second we shall have the assistance of the Secretary of our Dicastery, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto. Then we shall study the Church’s vision and guidelines for ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, specifically in relation to the world of human mobility. The former will be presented by Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, and the latter by Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. The Christian view will be enriched with statements of the Fraternal Delegates representing the Anglican Communion, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches. We hope that this will mark an increasing ecumenical collaboration in the sector of migrants and refugees that will contribute to the realization of full unity among Christians, the will of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We shall also “start afresh from Christ” by staking everything on charity. As Pope John Paul stated, “if we have truly started out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he himself wished to be identified: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me’ (Mt 25: 35-37).” This is not just a reminder of charity, but a page of Christology.

There is a special presence of Christ in the poor that requires “the Church to make a preferential option for them” (NMI 49). Of course, we know that the poor today are countless: the hungry, the illiterate, the sick, the homeless, but also those threatened by despair, lack of meaning in their lives, fear of being abandoned in old age, the marginalized, those who are discriminated against. Many forms of poverty can easily be found in the world of migrants and refugees, too. If only we can make them feel “at home” in our Christian communities!

Yet, the aforementioned page of Christology means that “no one can be excluded from our love, since ‘through his Incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every person’” (GS 22, NMI 49). If we keep this in our minds and hearts, then we can dream of a new world that is more Christian and fraternal, more welcoming in solidarity, more just, free and peaceful.

To help us reflect on how “to start afresh from Christ” towards this goal, we will listen carefully to the presentations of Fr. Albert Vanhoye, SI, Professor emeritus at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, outgoing President of SECAM, and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, outgoing Secretary for State Relations of the Secretariat of State. 

Finally, how can we ever think of “starting afresh from Christ” without contemplating the mystery especially of the Holy Eucharist, sacramental sign of the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise that he will be with us always and tangible proof of the infinite love of God who is our bread, nourishment and the seed of our resurrection? Moreover, Liturgy and Sunday Eucharist are a constant living memory of the truth on which our faith is founded: Christ’s resurrection on that “first day of the week” (Mk 16:2,9; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1). By the celebration of the weekly Passover, the Church will continue to show to every generation ‘the true fulcrum of history, to which the mystery of the world’s origin and its final destiny leads’ (Dies Domini, 2)” (cf. NMI 35).

Thus, every week, the Sunday Eucharist “gathers Christians together as God’s family round the table of the Word and Bread of Life” (NMI 36). This means that migrants and refugees, together with all the other members of the Church, are brothers and sisters in Christ, one sole family of God’s children. They, and all of us, need to experience this fact.

To delve into this sublime Eucharistic mystery and contemplate its divine beauty, Card. Geraldo Majella Agnelo, Archbishop of São Salvador da Bahia, in Brazil, will speak to us about the Eucharist as Bread and Word of Life, our Hope, while Bishop Renato Ascencio León, President of the Mexican Episcopal Commission for Human Mobility, will present it as the sign and instrument of the unity of the whole Christian community. 

By his death and resurrection, Christ not only redeemed mankind but also transformed the whole of creation. The Risen Lord, present in the Eucharist, is in fact the seed, the promise and the assurance of new heavens and new earth. In this regard, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Archbishop of Malines-Bruxelles will be our guide.

We, however, “start afresh from Christ” not from zero, but from very concrete and positive experiences all over the world, which will be shared with us by the participants in the daily round table dialogue. To them we are particularly grateful because it is they who, day after day, roll up their sleeves and respond to the needs, material and spiritual, of migrants and refugees.

Then it will be your turn to share your experiences, give your suggestions and come up with recommendations, plans and projects for the future in the daily workshops. This will all contribute to our final document.  

As this Fifth World Congress for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees opens, allow me to say with the Holy Father that “ours is a time of continual movement which often leads to restlessness, with the risk of ‘doing for the sake of doing’. We must resist this temptation by trying ‘to be’ before trying ‘to do’” (NMI 15). I myself have no hesitation in saying that all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness, which is an objective grace offered to all the baptized, as Vatican II stressed. In the context of pastoral planning, this means that holiness must be the standard of ordinary Christian living and must imbue the whole life of the Christian community and the domestic sanctuary of the Christian family (cf. NMI 30-31). Only in this way can we hope that the responses, which we will try to formulate during these five days to the challenges offered by migrants and refugees, will be effective. Only then will our pastoral plans and programmes truly contribute to the realization of God’s design of love for mankind, a single family of brothers and sisters, and we can truly say that the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven.