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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 105, December 2007




an opportunity for the ecumene*




Cardinal Renato Raffaele MARTINO

President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care

of Migrants and Itinerant People


Recently, a book entitled “Globus. Per una teoria storico-universale dello spazio” (Globus. Towards a historical-universal theory of space), a translation from German, was published in Italy. In this volume, the author, Franz Rosenzweig, makes a rapid but well-studied, original and significant reconstruction of the whole world history. The first part of the publication is entitled “Ecumene”, seen from the point of view of relationships between earthly forces that push towards the unification of the world.

“If millennia were needed for us to acquire theoretical awareness of the spherical form of the earth,” the author affirms, “we cannot be surprised by how slow world history walks towards unity of the globe. Yet, God created only one sky and one earth. Ecumenism is the final goal of humankind’s journey,” a sign of which is migration, indeed an opportunity for the ecumene.

Today, in fact, migration is one of the most important and most complex challenges of our modern world. Consequently, social transformation, caused by welcoming immigrants, is discussed in public meetings, and the question of “migration” appears as one of the top issues in the international agenda.

The migration phenomenon is therefore analyzed in relation to development. Migrants’ contribution to the labor market is studied, leading to the conclusion that they are important for world economy. A witness to this is the First Global Forum on Migration and Development, recently held in Brussels, last July 9 to 11.

In spite of this, however, many Governments are adopting more restrictive measures to counter immigration, especially if irregular. Researchers on the migration phenomenon, on their part, are for the opening of frontiers, not simply to solve contingent problems, but to situate the process in a global scenario. Migration has indeed become a structural phenomenon. This does not mean, however, that a vision of a “total” and “indiscriminate” freedom to immigrate is being adopted. It is rather the task of Governments to regulate the magnitude and the form of migration flows. They should, however, take common good into consideration, so that immigrants would be worthily welcomed, and the population of the receiving countries would not be put in a condition that would lead them to reject the newcomers. This would have unfavorable consequences both for immigrants and the local population, as well as for relations between peoples. Naturally national common good must be considered in the context of universal common good. This brings us back to that vision of the “ecumene” that I mentioned at the beginning.

Our task, however, is that of identifying facts and aspects of migration that would help us understand the range of the phenomenon itself. This will enable us to interpret this “sign of the times”[1] from a Christian perspective, and to offer our pastoral service to the world of human mobility in its totality, in its universality. And for you, this is true for Europe.

There has always been solicitude on the part of the Catholic Church for migration – we have to take note of this.[2] Involvement in various forms confirms its ability to interpret this rapidly changing reality. Active ecclesial commitment, especially at a pastoral level, naturally includes socio-humanitarian action so that the foreigner would be accepted and integrated in society, through an itinerary leading to authentic communion, where there is due respect for diversity. It is however necessary to remember that rights and duties come together, also for migrants.

Regarding respect for the fundamental rights of the human person, hence also of those who are involved in human mobility, the Catholic Church is continuously committed to this at various levels and in different areas. Specific initiatives, Messages of the Holy Father, action to build awareness among international organizations and governments of migrants’ countries of origin, transit and destination, define the Church’s “strategy”. This is based on the central principle and “sacredness” of the human person[3], to be upheld particularly when he/she is unprotected or marginalized. This “brings to light certain important theological and pastoral conclusions. These are: […] the defence of the rights of migrants, both men and women, and their children; [the question of the migrant family]; the ecclesial and missionary dimension of migration; the reappraisal of the apostolate of the laity; the value of cultures in the work of evangelisation; the protection and appreciation of minority groups in the Church; the importance of dialogue both inside and outside the Church; and the specific contribution of emigration to world peace” (EMCC n. 27). In all this, we can clearly see a basis for an ecumenical commitment.

Indeed the recent position of the Holy See regarding migration shows that attention is given to the continuous transformation of the phenomenon of human mobility and to the current needs of people in contemporary society. This is because it wants “to respond to the new spiritual and pastoral needs of migrants” bearing in mind “the ecumenical aspect of the phenomenon, owing to the presence among migrants of Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church, and also the inter-religious aspect, owing to the increasing number of migrants of other religions, in particular Muslims” (EMCC n. 3)[4]. We cannot ignore the fact that “recent times have witnessed a growing increase in the presence of immigrants of other religions in traditionally Christian countries” (EMCC n. 59). The great diversity of immigrants’ cultural and religious origin poses new challenges and leads towards new goals, putting dialogue at the heart of pastoral care in the world of migration. Certainly all this is part of the mission of the Church.

 The Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi carefully proposes programs that are appropriate for the various stages in the life of the migrant. It distinguishes “between assistance in a general sense (a first, short-term welcome), true welcome in the full sense (longer-term projects) and integration (an aim to be pursued constantly over a long period and in the true sense of the word)” (n. 42). In this case, it is important to give a sensible direction to an issue of great significance. I am referring to the difficult concept of integration, and its even more difficult application, keeping in mind also its ecumenical and interreligious aspects, particularly in societies hosting migrants. This concept is being seriously analyzed. We refuse to see it as a process of assimilation, but stress the aspect of cultural meeting and legitimate exchange. We are practically insisting on a concept of intercultural societies, meaning those that are capable of interacting and producing mutual enrichment, going beyond multiculturalism, that can be contented with a mere juxtaposition of cultures[5].

This gradual itinerary – as I was saying – provides, first of all, for “assistance or ‘first welcome’” (EMCC n. 43), but this is not enough to express the authentic vocation to Christian agape, also because it might be confused with philanthropy.

As a result, the Instruction offers a wider horizon, providing for “acts of welcome in its full sense, which aim at the progressive integration and self-sufficiency of the immigrant” (ibid.). Here, too, we cannot fail to consider the ecumenical and interreligious dimensions.

In his Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees this year, Benedict XVI stated that the Church, through its various Institutions and Associations, “has opened Centers where migrants are listened to, Houses where they are welcomed, offices for services offered to persons and families, with other initiatives set up to respond to the growing needs in this field”.[6]

Also through these services in the context of human mobility, the Catholic Church offers its assistance to everyone, without distinction of religion or nationality, respecting everyone’s inalienable dignity as a human person, created to the image of God and redeemed by the Blood of Christ.

In assisting migrants, therefore, it is possible to deepen ecumenical dialogue since contact with those among them who belong to other Churches or Ecclesial Communities gives “new possibilities of living ecumenical fraternity in practical day-to-day life and of achieving greater reciprocal understanding between Churches and ecclesial communities, something far from facile irenicism or proselytism” (EMCC n. 56). In fact, when migrants arrive in a place with a Catholic majority, the first meeting point should be hospitality and solidarity, within the context of “an authentic culture of welcome (cf. EEu 101 and 103) capable of accepting the truly human values of the immigrants over and above any difficulties caused by living together with persons who are different (cf. EEu 85, 112 and PaG 65)” (EMCC n. 39).

Therefore “the entire Church in the host country must feel concerned and engaged regarding immigrants. This means that local Churches must rethink pastoral care, programming it [… appropriately for] today’s new multicultural and pluri-religious context. With the help of social and pastoral workers, the local population should be made aware of the complex problems of migration and the need to oppose baseless suspicions and offensive prejudices against foreigners” (EMCC n. 41).

However, ecumenical dialogue does not stop there. It could also take the form of a specifically ecumenical cooperation, whereby resources are pooled and a common Christian witness is given (cf. Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, n. 162). Indeed the different Churches and ecclesial communities are particularly intent on welcoming and accompanying all migrants, in the pastoral sense, especially when alongside the flow of regular migrants, there are irregular migrants who are a cause for concern and are usually and unjustly blamed for crimes. Also, there are unscrupulous evildoers, who speculate on the tragic situation of people and promote the trafficking of human beings. Their presence increases xenophobia and at times provokes manifestations of racism  (cf. EMCC nos. 29 e 41). All this can make the ecumenical commitment in favor of migrants more difficult.

 The Church is called upon to open a dialogue with everyone, but this “dialogue should be conducted and implemented in the conviction that the Church is the ordinary means of salvation and that she alone possesses the fullness of the means of salvation” (EMCC 59). At the same time, migrants of other religions “should be helped insofar as possible to preserve a transcendent view of life” (ibid.).

There are surely some values in common between the Christian faith and other beliefs, but it is necessary to take into consideration the fact that “beside these points of agreement there are, however, also divergencies, some of which have to do with legitimate acquisitions of modern life and thought” (EMCC n. 66). On the part of the migrant, therefore, the first step to take towards the host society is to respect the laws and the values on which that society is founded, including religious ones. If this is not done, then integration would just be an empty word. 

The Church is also called to live fully its own identity, without renouncing to give witness to its own faith, also in view of respectfully proclaiming it (cf. EMCC n. 9). Thus, dialogue with others “requires Catholic communities receiving immigrants to appreciate their own identity even more, prove their loyalty to Christ, know the contents of the faith well, rediscover their missionary calling and thus commit themselves to bear witness for Jesus the Lord and His gospel. This is the necessary prerequisite for the correct attitude of sincere dialogue, open and respectful of all but at the same time neither naïve nor ill-equipped” (EMCC n. 60).[7]

Finally, it is necessary to take into account the important principle of reciprocity[8], “understood not merely as an attitude for making claims but as a relationship based on mutual respect and on justice in juridical and religious matters. Reciprocity is also an attitude of heart and spirit that enables us to live together everywhere with equal rights and duties. Healthy reciprocity will urge each one to become an ‘advocate’ for the rights of minorities when his or her own religious community is in the majority. In this respect we should also recall the numerous Christian migrants in lands where the majority of the population is not Christian and where the right to religious freedom is severely restricted or repressed” (EMCC n. 64).

It remains true, however, that solidarity, cooperation, international interdependence and the equitable distribution of the goods of the earth show the need to operate also in ecumenical communion, or rather, with a vision of “ecumene” in the broad sense of the term. This has to be done in depth and forcefully, especially in the areas where migration flows originate, so that the inequalities that induce people, individually or collectively, to leave their own natural and cultural environment would be overcome (cf. EMCC nos. 4; 8-9; 39-43). On its part, the Catholic Church will not stop encouraging everyone, but particularly the members of Christian communities, to be authentically available and open to others, including migrants, as it affirms that “notwithstanding the repeated failures of human projects, noble as they may have been, Christians, roused by the phenomenon of mobility, [should] become aware of their call to be always and repeatedly a sign of fraternity and communion in the world, by respecting differences and practising solidarity, in their ethics of meeting others” (EMCC n. 102).

To conclude, we have to acknowledge that migration is a process in constant evolution. It will continue to be present in the development of societies and will bring us more and more into an intercultural world, where legitimate diversity will be lived also in the context of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.



Oggi le migrazioni costituiscono una delle sfide più importanti e complesse del mondo moderno.

Nei loro riguardi, la Santa Sede ha sempre mostrato attenzione alle continue trasformazioni del fenomeno della mobilità umana e ai bisogni presenti delle persone nella società contemporanea. Essa, infatti, vuole “rispondere soprattutto ai nuovi bisogni spirituali e pastorali dei migranti” tenendo in debito conto “la visione ecumenica del fenomeno, per la presenza, nei flussi migratori, di cristiani non in piena comunione con la Chiesa cattolica, e di quella inter-religiosa, per il numero sempre più consistente di migranti di altre religioni, in particolare musulmani” (EMCC n. 3). La grande diversità dell’origine culturale e religiosa degli immigrati pone, infatti, nuove sfide e conduce verso nuovi obiettivi, ponendo il dialogo al cuore della pastorale nel mondo delle migrazioni.

L’Istruzione Erga migrantes caritas Christi propone con particolare attenzione programmi adeguati per i vari stadi della vita dei migranti. Essa distingue “i concetti di assistenza in genere, di accoglienza vera e propria e di integrazione (obiettivo del lungo periodo, da perseguire costantemente e nel giusto senso della parola)” (n. 42).

Nel Messaggio per la Giornata Mondiale del Migrante e del Rifugiato del 2007, Benedetto XVI afferma che la Chiesa, attraverso le sue varie Istituzioni e Associazioni,  ha aperto “Centri di ascolto dei migranti, Case per accoglierli, Uffici per servizi alle persone e alle famiglie, e si è dato vita ad altre iniziative per rispondere alle crescenti esigenze in questo campo”.  

Nell’assistenza ai migranti, pertanto, è possibile approfondire il dialogo ecumenico in quanto il contatto con quelli di loro che appartengono ad altre Chiese o Comunità ecclesiali presenta “nuove possibilità di vivere la fraternità ecumenica nella concretezza della vita quotidiana e di realizzare, lontani da facili irenismi e dal proselitismo, una maggiore comprensione reciproca fra Chiese e Comunità ecclesiali” (n. 56).

La Chiesa è chiamata ad entrare in dialogo con tutti, ma questo “dialogo deve essere condotto e attuato con la convinzione che la Chiesa è la via ordinaria di salvezza e che solo essa possiede la pienezza dei mezzi di salvezza” (EMCC 59).

Si vuole aggiungere che solidarietà, cooperazione, interdipendenza fra gli Stati ed equa distribuzione dei beni della terra mostrano la necessità di operare anche in comunione ecumenica o, piuttosto, con una visione di “ecumene” nel senso lato del termine. Ciò deve avvenire in profondità e in maniera decisa, specialmente nelle zone d’origine dei flussi migratori, affinché siano superate le disuguaglianze che inducono le persone, a livello individuale o collettivo, a lasciare il proprio ambiente naturale e culturale (cfr nn. 4; 8-9; 39-43).

Infine, nella linea dell’ecumenismo, è necessario tener conto dell’importante principio della reciprocità, “intesa non come un atteggiamento puramente rivendicativo, ma quale relazione fondata sul rispetto reciproco e sulla giustizia nei trattamenti giuridico‑religiosi. La reciprocità è anche un atteggiamento del cuore e dello spirito, che ci rende capaci di vivere insieme e ovunque in parità di diritti e di doveri. Una sana reciprocità spinge ciascuno a diventare "avvocato" dei diritti delle minoranze dove la propria comunità religiosa è maggioritaria. Si pensi in questo caso anche ai numerosi migranti cristiani in Paesi con maggioranza non cristiana della popolazione, dove il diritto alla libertà religiosa è fortemente ristretto o conculcato” (n. 64).



Aujourd’hui, les migrations représentent l’un des défis les plus importants et les plus complexes de notre monde moderne.

En ce qui concerne les migrations, le Saint-Siège a toujours manifesté son attention pour l’évolution constante du phénomène de la mobilité humaine et pour les besoins actuels des personnes dans la société contemporaine.  C’est parce qu’il désire  « répondre aux nouveaux besoins spirituels et pastoraux des migrants », en  gardant à l’esprit « la perspective œcuménique du phénomène, en raison de la présence, dans les flux migratoires, de chrétiens qui ne sont pas en pleine communion avec l’Eglise catholique, et [...] aussi la perspective interreligieuse, en raison du nombre toujours plus élevé de migrants d’autres religions, notamment de musulmans »  (EMCC, n. 3). La grande diversité des origines culturelles et religieuses des immigrés présente en effet de nouveaux défis et conduit vers de nouveaux objectifs, en plaçant le dialogue au cœur de la pastorale dans le monde des migrations.

L’Instruction  Erga migrantes caritas Christi propose de façon attentive des  programmes appropriés pour les différentes étapes de la vie du migrant. Elle fait la distinction entre « les termes d’assistance en général (ou premier accueil, plutôt à court terme), d’accueil à proprement parler (dans une perspective à plus long terme) et d’intégration (objectif à très long terme, à poursuivre dans la continuité et dans le sens juste du terme) » (n. 42).   

Dans  son Message pour la Journée mondiale des Migrants et des Réfugiés 2007, Benoît XVI a affirmé que l’Eglise, à travers ses diverses Institutions et Associations, a ouvert «des centres d’écoute des migrants, des maisons pour les accueillir, des bureaux pour les services à rendre aux personnes et aux familles, et que d’autres initiatives ont vu le jour pour répondre aux exigences croissantes en ce domaine ». 

En assistant les migrants, il est donc possible de renforcer le dialogue œcuménique, car le contact avec ceux d’entre eux qui appartiennent à d’autres Eglises ou communautés ecclésiales offre « de nouvelles possibilités de vivre la fraternité œcuménique dans le concret de la vie quotidienne et permet, loin d’un irénisme facile ou du prosélytisme, une meilleure compréhension réciproque entre Eglises et Communautés ecclésiales » (n. 56).

L’Eglise est appelée à instaurer un dialogue avec chacun, mais ce « dialogue doit être conduit et mis en œuvre dans la conviction que l’Eglise est la voie ordinaire du salut et qu’elle seule possède la plénitude des moyens du salut » (EMCC, n. 59). 

Nous désirons ajouter que la solidarité, la coopération, l’interdépendance internationale et la distribution équitable des biens de la terre montrent le besoin  d’œuvrer également dans la communion œcuménique, ou plutôt, dans une vision d’«œcuménisme», au sens large du terme. Cela doit être accompli en profondeur et avec force, en particulier dans les régions dont proviennent les flux migratoires, afin que les inégalités qui poussent les personnes, de façon individuelle ou collective, à quitter leur propre environnement naturel et culturel, soient surmontées (cf. nn. 4 ; 8-9 ; 39-43).

Enfin, en accord avec l’œcuménisme, il est nécessaire de prendre en compte le principe important de réciprocité, selon lequel « il s’agit non pas d’une attitude purement revendicatrice, mais d’une relation fondée sur le respect mutuel et sur la justice dans les traitements juridiques et religieux. La réciprocité est aussi une attitude du cœur et de l’esprit qui permet de vivre ensemble et en étant partout à parité de droits et de devoirs. Une saine réciprocité stimule chacun à devenir «l’avocat» des droits des minorités là où sa propre communauté religieuse est majoritaire. On pense notamment aux nombreux migrants chrétiens vivant dans des pays à la population majoritairement non chrétienne, où le droit à la liberté religieuse est fortement restreint ou violé » (n. 64). 


*Address at the Annual Meeting of European National Directors for the Pastoral Care of Migrants (Sibiu, 3-4 September 2007). 

[1] Cf. Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2006: 18_world-migrants-day_en.html; A. Marchetto, «Le migrazioni: segno dei tempi», in Pontificio Consiglio della Pastorale per i Migranti e gli Itineranti (ed.), La sollecitudine della Chiesa verso i migranti, (Quaderni Universitari, Comments to the First Part of Erga migrantes caritas Christ – henceforth EMCC), Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 2005, pp. 28-40.

[2] Pius XII’s prophetic intuition regarding the pastoral care of migrants is present in the Apostolic Constitution Exsul Familia (AAS XLIV [1952] 649-704), considered the magna charta of the Church’s teaching on migration. Paul VI, in continuity with and as an application of the teaching of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, later issued the Motu proprio Pastoralis migratorum cura (AAS LXI [1969] 601-603), promulgating the Instruction of the Congregation for Bishops De Pastorali migratorum cura (AAS LXI [1969] 614-643). In 1978, the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migration and Tourism published a Circular Letter addressed to the Episcopal Conferences, entitled Church and Human Mobility (AAS LXX [1978] 357-378): see EMCC nos. 19-33 and Pontificio Consiglio della Pastorale per i Migranti e gli Itineranti (ed.), La sollecitudine della Chiesa verso i migranti, op. cit. Cf. also A. Marchetto, «Chiesa conciliare e pastorale di accoglienza»: People on the Move XXXVIII (102, 2006), pp. 131-145.

[3] See the Pontifical Message for the World Day of Peace 2007, «The human person, the heart of peace»: 20061208_xl-world-day-peace_en.html.

[4] In 2004, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People published the Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi: AAS XCVI (2004), 762-822 (see also People on the Move XXXVI, 95, 2004, and website: migrants_doc_20040514_erga-migrantes-caritas-christi_en.html). Cf. comments on this Instruction by highly competent authors in People on the Move XXXVII (98, 2005), pp. 23-125, particularly on ecumenism and interreligious dialogue: pp. 45-63.

[5] Issues related to this important chapter of the pastoral care of human mobility were studied more in-depth and then published in Pontificio Consiglio della Pastorale per i Migranti e gli Itineranti (ed.), Migranti e pastorale d’accoglienza (Quaderni Universitari, Comments to the Second Part of EMCC), Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 2006.

[6] Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2007: en.html.

[7] Cf. Proceedings of the XVII Plenary Session of our Pontifical Council, held from May 15 to 17, 2006, on the theme «Migration and Itinerancy from and towards Islamic majority countries»: People on the Move XXXVIII (101 Suppl., 2006). Specifically regarding interreligious dialogue, see pp. 187-224. Particularly important is n. 11 of the conclusions and recommendations: «It was also deemed vital to distinguish between what the receiving societies can and cannot tolerate in Islamic culture, what can be respected or shared with regard to followers of other religions (see EMCC 65 and 66), and to have the possibility of giving indications in this regard also to policymakers, towards a proper formulation of civil legislation, with due respect for each one’s competence»: ibid., p. 74.

[8] Also Benedict XVI mentioned this in his Address to the participants in the aforementioned XVII Plenary Session:  loc. cit., p. 5.