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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 99, December 2005



archbishop agostino marchetto

intervieWEd by vatican radio 


1. In this year’s Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the Holy Father speaks about the “feminization” of migration. How does the Church see this phenomenon?

This question deserves a more detailed answer, but that is not possible here. At any rate, it is necessary to look at both sides of the coin. On one hand, it involves the generosity and spirit of sacrifice of wives and mothers, who have to leave their families to earn their daily bread elsewhere, maybe where there are more work opportunities for women rather than for men. Obviously, the result is family separation, a big problem with serious consequences. This fact merits to get everyone’s attention. At this point, however, I will have to limit myself to this remark: the Church appeals for family reunification.

In the area of work, the immigrant woman – married or not – is often a victim of discrimination on two counts: one, for being an immigrant and again, for being a woman. Already in 1995, the year the United Nations organized the Fourth World Conference on Women, Pope John Paul II spoke of the tendency for discrimination against migrants, in general, to become aggressive against women, in particular. He therefore called on Governments to change their “perspective in the formulation of the relevant policies” so as “to guarantee women equal treatment, both with regard to remuneration as well as to working conditions and security”. In his Message for this year’s Day for Migrants and Refugees, Pope Benedict XVI calls on Christians “to dedicate themselves to assuring just treatment for migrant women, out of respect for their femininity, in recognition of their equal rights…”.

Then, there is also the serious problem of women involved in irregular immigration, maybe victims of trafficking in human beings. The Church calls for a distinction between criminals and victims. For the former, it is necessary for justice to take its course. For the victims, the Church also asks for solidarity. 

On the other hand, however, the emigration of women for labor purposes underlines the autonomy of women as well as their capabilities, also from the professional point of view. It is therefore necessary to set up appropriate “means to facilitate women's integration and cultural and professional training” (Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 1995). Especially for women, to whom educational tasks are often entrusted, migration is an important area for a verification of the presence of respect for their religious convictions. 

2. The Message also mentioned the topic of refugees. Mass media often report on this very sad reality. What is the task of the Church in this regard?

Pope Benedict himself states in his Message that the “Church sees this entire world of suffering and violence through the eyes of Jesus, who was moved with pity at the sight of the [wandering] crowds…” He therefore openly affirms the need for human and Christian efforts to help these brothers and sisters in their suffering, efforts that are inspired by hope, and done with courage, love and “creativity in charity”. The Holy Father also calls on the local Churches to send “pastoral agents of the same language and culture” as the refugees, naturally in a dialogue of charity with the receiving Churches. 

I would also like to call to mind the words of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, when he was Superior General of the Society of Jesus, in his founding letter of the “Jesuit Refugee Service”. I consider these words significant for the whole Church. He wrote: “The help expected from us is not only material. The Society is called, above all, to offer a human, educational and spiritual service.” Education, therefore, formal or otherwise, professional training, but also education to reconciliation and peace, which are very important for those who have been violently forced to leave everything. In this regard, spiritual accompaniment is a fundamental dimension. 

3. Foreign students are also a category of migrants. They, however, seem to be in a privileged position with respect to the other categories. Why does the Church give them specific pastoral care?

First of all, because they are migrants, and as such they are in a state of uprootedness, far from home, from their country, from their own culture and way of life, etc. Therefore, even if they have a scholarship, which is not always the case, and may seem self-sufficient, they still need help to be integrated – even only temporarily – into the receiving country. In reality, however, in many cases, scholarships are not sufficient to cover the needs of foreign students. Therefore, they need a point of reference to help them overcome moments of crisis, and not only in the economic sense. Also, faith is expressed in various ways in the different countries, even in daily life. So foreign students need someone who would listen to and understand them. If this support is lacking, there could be negative consequences even for their studies. If they are adequately accompanied, instead, spiritually, ecclesially, through a specific pastoral care, their “university experience [abroad] can become an extraordinary occasion for spiritual enrichment”, as Pope Benedict XVI affirmed in his Message. Our recent II World Congress for the pastoral care of foreign students confirmed this.