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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 97, April 2005





at the secam/ccee symposium* 


Cardinal Stephen Fumio HAMAO

President Pontifical Council for the

Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People


Your Eminencies, Your Excellencies, 

First of all, I wish to thank you all for having invited me here this afternoon, in response to my request to present to your Symposium our recent Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi.

I shall begin with a brief historical perspective.

1. Since the twentieth century, the Holy See has systematically focused its attention on the phenomenon of human mobility. Its declarations showed both a profound understanding of this changeable social reality and an indisputable capacity of suggesting pastoral solutions geared towards a full integration of immigrants into the host society and into the local Church.

2. After the Second World War, there was clearly a need for an authoritative statement by the Holy See so as to reactivate and reorganize the vast and complex pastoral commitment in this field. This was realized in August 1952, when Pope Pius XII published the Apostolic Constitution Exsul Familia, considered the magna charta of the Church’s teaching on migration, which established the specific pastoral care for migrants.

3. Like everything else, Exsul Familia was conditioned by the reality of its times. Thus in the 1960s, the Church tried to respond pastorally to the many events that continually changed the overall picture of international migration. These years were at the same time marked by the Second Vatican Council, which renewed, in continuity with the past, the structures of the Church and its commitment in evangelization and human promotion. The Church faced the new realities of the contemporary world squarely and perceived, in the salient phenomena of today’s world, the "signs of the times" -- to be interpreted in the light of the Word of God and the Magisterium of the Church. Thus the issues related to migration also found their place in the Council.

4. As at the national level, where Bishops' Conferences and specific offices within them for migration were being formed and consolidated, it was also necessary to reformulate the pastoral care at the universal level. Pope Paul VI did this with his Motu Proprio Pastoralis Migratorum Cura, and the corresponding Instruction, De Pastorali Migratorum Cura ("Nemo est") issued by the Congregation for Bishops in 1969.

5. Then in 1970, the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migration and Tourism was instituted by Paul VI. (It became the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People in 1989.) It was entrusted with the important tasks of coordination, animation and pastoral encouragement, especially with respect to the individual Bishops' Conferences.

A vision of the Instruction

6. In these last decades, the phenomenon, now involving about two hundred million individuals, has turned into a structural component of society, with its social, cultural, political, religious, economic and pastoral exigencies.

7. The Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi, approved by the Holy Father on the first of last May, is an update of the pastoral care of migration, thirty-five years after the publication of Pastoralis migratorum cura. It is meant to be an ecclesial response to the pastoral needs of migrants at the beginning of the new millennium and lead them towards the transformation of their migration experience into an occasion of dialogue and mission in the context of new evangelization. Furthermore, the document facilitates the application of the norms contained in the Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church and also in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches to respond more adequately to the pastoral needs of the emigrant faithful of the Eastern Churches, who are now ever more numerous. 

8. The spirit of dialogue permeates the whole Instruction: within the Catholic Church, with other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, and with believers in other religions. Within the Catholic Church, this means dialogue between pastors and faithful, stressing the importance of the language, mentality, culture and religious traditions of the Catholic migrants. Ecumenical dialogue is also necessary, because of the presence of many migrants not in full communion with the Catholic Church in traditionally Catholic territories. Then there is also the dimension of inter-religious dialogue, due to the ever increasing number of migrants belonging to other religions, particularly Islam. 

9. Migration changes the religious configuration of the host society, as is the case of countries of ancient Christian tradition, that now experience a religious pluralism that was previously unknown. Our pastoral solicitude urges us to be concerned with the migrants’ “human development and giving witness to Christ’s charity”.

10. Living together with believers of other religions also requires attention to specific realities, particularly sacred places, Catholic schools, marriage and reciprocity, which are discussed in nos. 61-64. Of particular importance is dialogue regarding Muslim migrants (nos. 65-68) who, in some countries, are already so numerous that they form groups that can be distinguished particularly through their sense of identity. For this reason it is necessary for pastoral agents to have “solid formation and information on other religions” (no. 69).

11. In any case, dialogue and evangelization are not opposites. Erga migrantes caritas Christi, in fact, states: “With great respect and attention for the migrants’ [religious] traditions and culture, we Christians are called to bear witness to the gospel of love and peace in our dealings with them and also to proclaim the Word of God explicitly to them so that the blessing of the Lord, promised to Abraham and his descendants for ever, may reach them” (no. 100).

12. The Document began with a rapid review of some peculiar characteristics of today’s migration phenomenon (globalization, demographic changes taking place in the countries that were industrialized first, increase in inequality between the world’s North and South, the proliferation of conflicts and civil wars). Moreover, it highlights the serious problems that emigration generally causes in families and in individuals, particularly for women and children; and also the ethical question of seeking a new international economic order for a more equitable distribution of the goods of the earth, viewing the international community as a family of peoples whose relations are governed by International Law. It is worthwhile to note that the Instruction gives a biblico-theological framework of reference for migration, seeing it, in the context of the history of salvation, as a sign of the times and of the presence of God in history and in the community of peoples, walking towards universal communion.

13. The Document also clarifies the pastoral and juridical definition of pastoral agents – specifically, Chaplains/Missionaries and their National Coordinators, diocesan/eparchial priests, religious priests and brothers, women religious, lay people, lay associations and ecclesial movements – whose apostolic commitment is considered as directed towards a “pastoral care of communion”.  

14Erga migrantes caritas Christi also wishes to stress and propose to the particular Churches the integration of the structures for the pastoral care of migrants (those already established and those proposed) and their ecclesial inclusion in “ordinary pastoral care” -- with full respect for their legitimate diversity and their spiritual and cultural patrimony. Such an integration is an essential condition for pastoral care, for and with migrants, to become a significant expression of the universal Church and missio ad Gentes.

15. The Instruction ends with the "juridical and pastoral regulations" referring to the universal law of the Church.

16. To conclude, the Church does not look only at herself but at the whole world, contemplating the faces of men and women of every colour, race, nationality and religion. In the new Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi, we are asked to grow in the awareness of the universal mission of the Church in the world and in history, in the certainty that migrants will in the end be instruments of unity and peace in an ever more united world governed by solidarity.

* At the SECAM/CCEE Symposium, Rome, 12th November 2004