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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 99, December 2005




Cardinal Stephen Fumio HAMAO

President of the Pontifical Council for the

Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People


Benedict XVI's first Message on migration coincides with the 92nd World Day of Migrants and Refugees that will be celebrated worldwide on Sunday, 15 January 2006. It is entitled Migration: a sign of the times.

It is important, therefore, to note that a phenomenon such as migration, so typical of our times and in some re­spects dramatic, is a "sign of the times" that inspires in the Church a wise dis­cernment of impulses, on the crest of history, producing an attitude which then leads to taking one pastoral direction rather than another.

In this perspective, the phenomenon of migration is likewise a qualifying element for predicting the future orientation of the historical journey of the whole of humanity since, as the Message attests, "during the century just ended [it] can be said to have taken on structural characteristics" with a global dimension. Migratory flows should, in any case, be interpreted in the light of Revelation, with the guidance of the Church's Magisterium, focused on the sign‑sacrament which is Jesus Christ. 

More recently, if we look back at history, the expression "sign of the times" was used in the Bull of Indiction of the Second Vatican Council, Humanae Salutis, of 25 December 1961. The introduction of Benedict XVI's Message for 2006 refers precisely to that great Meeting, commemorating the 40th anniversary of its closure.

This is what Pope John XXIII said: “We make ours the recommendation of Jesus that one should know how to distinguish the ‘signs of the times’ (Mt. 16:4), and we seem to see now, in the midst of so much darkness, a few indications which auger well for the fate of the Church and of humanity”. The Council then repeated the expression four times in its Final Documents (Gaudium et Spes, n. 4; Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 9; Apostolicam Actuositatem, n. 14; Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 4). John XXIII also made it virtually the reference point of his Encyclical Pacem in Terris

Benedict XVI's recent Message, in continuity with the Council, is first and foremost an invitation, in a positive key, to see migration as an opportunity, as it were, a challenge. Indeed, it "helps people to get to know one another and provides opportunity for dialogue and communion or indeed integration at various levels" (Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi - The Love of Christ Towards Migrants -, 3 May 2004, n. 2; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, May 2004, p. II). 

Globalization: a special opportunity

Thus, "migration today furthermore imposes new commitments of evangelization and solidarity on Christians and calls them to examine more profoundly those values shared by other religious or lay groups and indispensable to ensure a harmonious life together" (ibid., n. 9). In this way, as the Papal Message states, the "enormous drive of globalization", even in the context of migration, becomes a privileged opportunity to put into practice in particular the "globalization of solidarity" for which the Servant of God John Paul II greatly hoped (Pastores Gregis, nn. 63, 69).

As an instrument in the passage from monocultural to multi-ethnic and intercultural societies, migration can also be considered as "a sign of the living presence of God in history and in the community of humankind, for it offers a providential opportunity for the fulfilment of God's plan for a universal communion" (Erga migrantes caritas Christi, n. 9).

We also find in the Holy Father's Message the conviction that emigrants, women and men, are a valuable resource for the development of all humanity, thanks to the human, spiritual and cultural potential of each individual person but without underrating the human cost of the experience of migration and its many social, financial and political consequences.

And here we are already turning our attention to its negative aspects which are clearly spelled out in today's Message, this year, referring particularly to the troubles that women immigrants encounter ‑ the Pope mentions the "feminization" of the phenomenon of migration ‑, as well as the tragedies that involve asylum seekers and refugees, and the well‑known problems of foreign students, especially if they come from the Third World.

These situations of hardship and conflict "reveal the deep wounds that sin causes in the human family. They are thus an urgent appeal for true fraternity" (ibid., n. 12), even if the suffering that goes with migration can be considered as "neither more nor less than the birth‑pangs of a new humanity" (ibid.). Seen in this light, migration is one of the authentic signs of the times, together with "those biblical events that mark the phases of humanity's arduous journey towards the birth of a people without discrimination or frontiers" (ibid., n. 13). 

Migration, a sign of the times

Actually, in interpreting migration as a sign of the times, various elements converge. These include "both internal and international migration, forced and voluntary migration, legal and illegal migration, subject also to the scourge of trafficking in human beings". The Holy Father concludes with a reference to the "category of foreign students". Moreover, he raises all this to the plane of identifying in the challenge that migration poses, "the possibility of responding adequately to the eternal questions about this life and the life to come and about just social relations".

In this context I cannot fail to mention the young migrants, both those who join bands of street children ‑ to whom, just over a year ago, we dedicated an International Congress (the first) on the special pastoral care they need ‑ and foreign students, lovingly mentioned in the Papal Message. We are therefore organizing for the latter the Second International Congress on their specific pastoral care, based on the Instruction of the Pontifical Council: The Love of Christ Towards Migrants. It will be held in Rome, from 14 to 16 December 2005.

As a result, hand in hand with the commitment for justice to be implemented in favour of migrants, the Message invites us to a charity that urges to maintain and extend a compart network of initiatives that make migrants truly welcome and are genuinely at their service (cf. ibid., nn. 42, 43), even temporarily, to meet their many urgent needs in the impact with the host society.

Likewise, there should be more initiatives to foster integration, intercultural exchange, the development of a mindset open to the universal, as well as interreligious dialogue, which is a strong feature of the Church's mission in our time.

Thus, also in the context of migration, missionary zeal spurs us to take every opportunity "to bring the Gospel message to the men and women of today" in accordance with the recommendations and hopes that the Holy Father expresses in his Message, on paths that Providence will unfold to us.

*cfr. L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), N. 49 (1922), 7 December 2005, p. 13.