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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move 

N° 94,  April 2004, pp. 171-175

Ministering together for Immigrants, Refugees, Migrants and People on the Move 

at the beginning of the 3rd Millennium


United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 

(Migration and Refugee Services,

Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees)

Executive Summary

Since the sixties, the Church has had intensive involvement in refugee settlement and immigrant advocacy. At the beginning of the 3rd millennium, the Church celebrated with Encuentro 2000 and the pastoral statement Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity accompanied with regional training workshops. U.S. Census 2000 documented the increasing diversity of the population.

In 2001, the MRS Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees (MRS/PCMR) of USCCB commissioned a study to gather a concrete picture of the ways in which dioceses are providing pastoral care and preparing local churches for the presence of newcomers. The study includes an ethnic and racial profile of dioceses based on the U.S. Census 2000 and a survey which was sent to all dioceses in the spring of 2002. The survey asked questions on training and formation, adaptation of programs, services, communications, resources, successes and failures, ministry to people on the move, and ways in which PCMR could be of future assistance.

Over three quarters of the dioceses responded. Responses were received from 137 dioceses, a response rate of 77.8%. The dioceses appreciated this effort. For some it provided a broader perspective by opening up new directions and new ideas and for others it provided a needed evaluation.

A responsibility of all dioceses

Dioceses vary in size. Juneau is the smallest with a population of 78,082 and Los Angeles is the largest with a population of 10,671,882.

One measure of diversity is the combination of the Hispanic, Black, Asian, Pacific Island and Native American populations. This diverse population ranges from just under seven thousand persons (6,715) in Boise, Idaho to over seven million (7,029,314) in Los Angeles. Twenty-four dioceses have a diverse population of over one million. The proportion of the population that it represents is also varied, ranging from 1.8% in the diocese of Superior to 94.2% in Laredo.

Multicultural complexity takes into account both the number of ethnic/racial groups (in addition to the White non-Hispanic group) and the size of the diverse population. Brooklyn, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York are the most multiculturally complex and Juneau and Rapid City are the least complex. All dioceses have at least three ethnic/racial groups and a diverse population of 500 persons.

* * *With the dramatic increase in variety of homelands and its numbers, the presence of many more ethnic/racial groups is not only in the large urban centers but in smaller cities and rural areas across the country. All dioceses need to welcome and provide pastoral care for the newcomer.

Dioceses provide services, programs, especially religious services

The provision of sacramental services to immigrants began over half a century ago, and in general, dioceses do well in providing religious services to various groups . A majority offer catechetical materials and spiritual counseling in addition to sacramental services. More recently, services such as leadership training, English language and citizenship training are offered.

***While these efforts are being made in dioceses and especially parishes, efforts need to be made to ensure that all sacraments are accessible to people on the move, especially those whose work and other demands necessitate their moving from place to place.

About half of our dioceses adapt parish catechetics, adult religious education and lay ministry formation programs to incorporate a sensitivity to and to meet the needs of the immigrants, migrants, refugees and people on the move, and about one‑third of the dioceses tailor liturgical and social justice programs for this. Catholic schools are less likely to adapt their programs.

More than half the dioceses provide immigration services, some for over fifty years. English classes and leadership formation are also provided by a majority. Practical needs such as housing, employment, health and other medical needs are addressed by two‑fifths of the dioceses.

***An important aspect is to affirm the cultures and traditions of the faith which the newcomers bring as an enrichment of our own faith. Cultural adaptation needs to be strengthened especially in our schools, and in liturgical and social justice programs. It is one of the areas in which dioceses would like to begin programs and also for which assistance is sought from PCMR.

***The growing need for various services is indicated in that a substantial number of dioceses (19.5%) are seeking to begin programs for leadership formation. Two other areas in which dioceses seek to begin services are citizenship training, and cultural adaptation.

Multicultural training is limited

A large majority of dioceses, over three-quarters do not undertake training and preparation of pastoral ministers for multicultural ministry. Most frequently, formation is offered for clergy and pastors, but this is conducted by less than one quarter (21.4%) of the dioceses. Training for other groups, diocesan staff, seminarians, parish councils, and parish staff is conducted by less than one-fifth and for vocation directors by very few dioceses (5.8%).

***Training for all groups, especially for parish staff and parish councils is important with the growing role of the laity in our parishes. Training is also among the most frequent areas in which dioceses would like to begin programs and also for which assistance is sought from PCMR.

People on the Move and growing needs

Almost three-fifths (56.2%) of our dioceses provide some pastoral care to migrant farmworkers. Pastoral care to circus/carnival workers, gypsies and Irish. Travelers is indicated by a small group of dioceses. Most urgent needs are immigration related issues, housing and clothing, and family issues.

Three-tenths (29%) of our dioceses provide ministry to airports, seaports, truck stops; to pilgrimages and to shrines and national parks - the mobile ministries. It is most frequently provided to seaports and airports.

***Ministry to people on the move has a long and generous history especially in farmwork, seaports and to places of pilgrimages and shrines. While pastoral care has been provided to farmworkers, and travelers and workers in seaports, services to other specific groups are limited. Immigration related issues and family issues continue to be areas where assistance is sought and in addition, help is needed for social justice issues especially the exploitation of women and just wages. Institutional support systems are particularly important for ministry to people on the move.

Communications - informal and formal

Pastoral care for newcomers is most commonly publicized by word of mouth in over four-fifths of our dioceses (83.9%), followed by diocesan newspapers and announcements in parish bulletins by almost three-quarters of the dioceses.

Articles in the diocesan newspaper, participation in Encuentro 2000, and annual cultural celebrations are used most frequently and are the most effective in raising awareness for the need to reach out. Almost three-quarters of the dioceses use the channel of their diocesan newspapers, and two-thirds had participated in the national Encuentro and conducted annual cultural celebrations.

Among PCMR resources, the pastoral letter Welcomimg the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity and its accompanying parish kit are used most frequently by dioceses (79.6%) and received the highest scores for usefulness. Almost two thirds of dioceses are very familiar or familiar with the work and resources of PCMR. One‑third are not very familiar or do not know about their work.

* * *While the work and resources of PCMR are appreciated and found useful, nevertheless, many dioceses are not aware of all of the resources, and it is suggested that greater publicity and communication about all resources could be undertaken. Communication channels with the dioceses and within a diocese need to be examined as to the most effective way of getting the word out especially in large and complex dioceses. Perhaps regional Episcopal structures already in place could be better utilized such as those in California and Texas.

 Resources limited

The main source for funding programs which serve immigrants, migrants, refugees and people on the move, is the diocese. Over four-fifths (83.2%) indicated their (dioceses as a source and for half it represents more than half of their funding and as much as 90%.

Among resources for staff support, most utilized are the small grants, and the regional training for Welcoming, the Stranger used by one-third of the dioceses.

Lack of funding is the most frequently given difficulty cited by three-tenths of the dioceses, followed by lack of staffing given by one‑fifth.

* * * Of particular concern is the funding of programs, first, because the most frequently mentioned and the largest financial source has been the diocese and second, at the time of the survey, dioceses were being faced with serious financial difficulty. Since the time of the survey, two of the largest and most ethnically complex dioceses have severely curtailed their offices and programs for Welcoming the Stranger. This has raised concern on the part of the newest immigrant/migrant groups that there is a further diminishing connection to the Church. Other sources of funding and support need to be explored.

***The connection to local communities especially the dioceses needs to be continued and strengthened. New and innovative ways to make this connection need to be seriously considered both as support and resource to our many diverse communities.


The survey has provided an overview of the efforts of dioceses and the usefulness of the work of the bishops’ Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees. The work and resources of this office are clearly appreciated and seen as helpful. Many of the major events advocating the welcoming of newcomers truly as part of the Church in the United States has come from their support. The dioceses express their sentiment that the good work will be continued.

A great deal has been accomplished, but a great deal more needs to be done. The survey suggests approaches which can be used to bring about a stronger connection to the diverse Church community and a sharing of the gifts which every group brings to build a truly Catholic community.

 (Spring 2002, Executive Summary published in 2003)