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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 104, August 2007


Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care

of Migrants and Itinerant People




The Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People has the task of assisting the Holy Father in directing “the pastoral solicitude of the Church to the particular needs of those who have been forced to abandon their homeland, as well as to those who have none… [It] closely follows all questions pertaining to this matter [and] … is committed to assuring that particular Churches offer efficacious and relevant spiritual assistance to refugees and exiles by setting up adequate pastoral structures when necessary, as well as to migrants, nomads and circus people. …It [also] facilitates the pastoral care of seafarers both at sea and in port, especially through the Apostleship of the Sea, over which it constitutes the highest authority [and] … exercises the same solicitude for those who are employed or work in airports or on airplanes. [Moreover,] the Pontifical Council is committed to assuring that journeys undertaken for reasons of piety, study or relaxation may aid in the moral and religious formation of the faithful.” (Pastor Bonus, art. 149-151).


How can we, as Church, be effectively present, with appropriate and specific pastoral care, among migrants, refugees, internally displaced persons, international students, and others whose lives are conditioned by the many experiences of human mobility? How can this also be an evangelizing and missionary presence? How can this be linked with necessary and urgent human promotion and integral development? Concretely, what would our Pontifical Council, in fulfillment of its mandate, consider worthy of promotion from the part of the particular Churches? 

Pastoral Presence of the Church Among People on the Move

The experience of our Council is that an effective pastoral presence of the Church among migrants, refugees and other people on the move depends on the formation of priests and other pastoral workers in human mobility, adequate pastoral organization (“organic pastoral solidarity”), and cooperation within the Church at diocesan, national, regional, continental, and universal levels, an expression of the aforementioned solidarity and implements it.

a. Formation

As already mentioned, the first is formation of future priests and other pastoral agents as well as the ongoing formation of those who are already in active ministry.  The number of times that the Documents of the Church speak about formation is impressive. We consider as indispensable the further development of a mentality and a spirituality that goes out to meet Christ in the refugee, the migrant and the stranger.  In 1986, the Congregation for Catholic Education, in close collaboration with our Dicastery, wrote a Circular Letter to the Bishops and the Rectors of their Seminaries with the aim of ensuring that the formation of future priests, likewise from the academic point of view, would adequately prepare them to face the growing phenomenon of human mobility and be effective in a pastoral mission in that area. In 2005, our two Dicasteries reiterated our concern regarding the formation of priests and seminarians in questions regarding human mobility in another Joint Letter (see A.A.S. XCVIII/1). Formation, however, is not just academic; it requires spirituality as the Holy Father affirms in Ecclesia in Africa (no. 136): “It is not enough to update pastoral techniques, organize and coordinate ecclesial resources, or delve deeply into the biblical and theological foundations of faith. What is needed is the encouragement of a new ‘ardour for holiness’ among missionaries and throughout the Christian community,” to serve, in this case, Christ present in the stranger (see Matt. 25,37-40).

b.  Pastoral Structures

The second action is the establishment of appropriate national and diocesan structures, particularly Commissions for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People or at least the appointment of an Episcopal Promoter. This step, which means committing a minimum of personnel and resources, depends very much on the conviction of its importance and necessity, developed especially through formation in human mobility. In places where such Commissions exist, they are a stable point of pastoral reference, distinct from Caritas or Justice and Peace, with whom they of course collaborate. They deal specifically with reaching out in welcoming the stranger and being the Church- as-Family with those who bear the trauma and cross of being exiles or foreigners in a strange land. By promoting sacramental and liturgical celebrations, devotional activities, pastoral visitations, catechesis, and missionary outreach, they help the local Church establish its proper presence among migrants and refugees, something that usually sets it apart from other humanitarian Agencies and non-governmental Organizations. Unfortunately, however, many countries with significant challenges in human mobility lack such a functioning structure.  We believe this urgently needs to be remedied, at least with the figure, to start with, of an Episcopal Promoter.

c. Pastoral Cooperation

Third, formation and adequate structures go hand in hand with cooperation among parishes, dioceses, Bishops’ Conferences, regional, continental and universal structures of ecclesial communion.  Since migrants and refugees regularly cross ecclesiastical and national borders, the response of the Church necessarily involves similar dimensions (“Church without borders”). For example, the presence of large numbers of exiles and asylum-seekers that flee, sometimes overnight, into a neighboring country presents a pastoral obligation that can be difficult to fulfill. Something similar can be said about the pastoral needs of larger groups of migrants, including internal migrants, who settle in larger cities. These and similar situations require contacts, links and agreements between the local Church of origin and that of arrival, to assure an adequate pastoral presence.

(1) In the local Church of arrival

Formation, a minimum of structures, and cooperation can better assure welcome, communication, and response to the experience of being far from home.  These stimulate the local Church of arrival to follow the example of the Good Shepherd and go out to find the strangers who perhaps hesitate to approach the Church because of language, culture or even legal status and invite them into its Family. There they should find the sympathetic ear that supports their faith and trust in God, something very important, too. There migrants can find relief from other common experiences, such as discrimination or being blamed for unemployment or criminal activities. All this can spare them from what weakens the Church-as-Family, such as the allurement of the sects or even of Islam. The confidence of feeling part of the Family likewise enables migrants to integrate into it and make their own contribution to it.

If migrants are Christians of other Churches or Ecclesial Communities or adherents of other religions, welcoming them is a chance to establish that dialogue of life that is a key aspect of ecumenism and inter-religious relations. It is also an occasion to present the Gospel, especially through explaining our witness to Christ’s love (see 1 Pt. 3,15).

(2) In the local Church of departure

Specialized pastoral care is also needed in the places from which migrants come.  Migration, for example, affects the family, especially when it separates spouses and increases the burden of female heads of households. This is even more dramatic when people are forced to flee their homes and abandon their families. These realities require specific pastoral attention and programs when possible.

Another pastoral service is preparing people who are considering migration, as is done in some countries.  This can offer them an occasion to discern wisely whether they should emigrate and offer them the “arms of the light” (Rom 13,12) to face such a difficult and even dangerous experience.  It can also help facilitate contact with the local Church in countries of destination and remind them of their call to be bearers of the gospel.

All this requires pastoral care that combines territorial and specialized approaches (cf. CIC can. 529, § 1; 568; 518; 564 and CCEO can. 280, §1) in fulfillment of directives of Vatican II: “Special concern should be shown for those among the faithful who, on account of their way of life, cannot sufficiently make use of the common and ordinary pastoral care of parish priests or are quite cut off from it. Among this group are the majority of migrants, exiles and refugees … and others of this kind. … Episcopal conferences …  should pay special attention to the very pressing problems concerning the above-mentioned groups. Through voluntary agreement and united efforts, they should look to and promote their spiritual care by means of suitable methods and institutions” (Christus Dominus 18). 

Conclusion:  Our Deep Desire to Work especially with the Bishops for Migrants, Refugees and Itinerant People

Our Pontifical Council deeply desires to work with the Bishops and the Episcopal Conferences and regional and continental organizations of ecclesial communion for the sake of migrants, refugees, and other people on the move, from a pastoral point of view. Formation for this purpose and organization are within the possibilities of the local Churches. As representatives of the universal solicitude entrusted to us, we look forward to working with you to promote the Church’s specific presence in the world of human mobility, that is among migrants, refugees, foreign students, seafarers, those engaged in civil aviation, nomads, circus and entertainment park workers, people of the road, tourists and pilgrims.