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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 109 (Suppl.), April 2009



Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino

President of the Pontifical Council

for the Pastoral Care of

Migrants and Itinerant People


Your Eminences, Your Excellencies,

Reverend Fathers, Religious Brothers and Sisters,

Dear and Esteemed Friends in Christ,


I have the joy to welcome you to this African Congress of those responsible, at national level, of the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees. As you know, the Congress is organized by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, of which I am the President, in cooperation with its counterpart in the Episcopal Conference of Kenya. I am grateful to my collaborators in the Pontifical Council, and to all those on the local level in the Episcopal Conference of Kenya, for their precious contribution in the realization of this meeting. Joining me in greeting you cordially are the Secretary of the Pontifical Council, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, and the Undersecretary, Msgr Novatus Rugambwa.

Responding to our invitation to gather in these days, you have come from different Countries to give this Congress a truly “pan-African” look: from Angola to Burundi, from Cameroon to the Central African Republic, from Egypt to Ghana, from the Ivory Coast to Lesotho, from Libya to Mali, from Mozambique to Rwanda, from Senegal to Sierra Leone, from Somalia to South Africa, from Swaziland to Tanzania, from Togo to Uganda, from Zambia to Zimbabwe, and, of course, from other parts in the interior of our host Country, Kenya.

Taking advantage of the wealth of experiences deriving from our various countries of origin, during these days we will reflect upon a theme of pressing concern: “Towards a better Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees in Africa at the Dawn of the Third Millennium”.

It is true that the phenomenon of migration, both voluntary and forced, has always been a part of human history; but recently it has assumed a structural and universal dimension with meanings evermore complex. Every continent, all Governments, as well as International Organizations, are called to come to terms with it, and with its particular challenges and opportunities in our time. No doubt each of you present here, because of your service to the Church in this field, are aware of the countless studies and discussions that often have illustrated an accurate picture of the drama hidden beneath many instances of human migration, but without being able to effectively lessen its social and human costs.

It is not surprising, then, that questions relating to international migrations, to evacuations of people or to requests of asylum, are constantly on the policy agendas of governmental legislative bodies. There remains, however, the suspicion that the phenomena of migration may not be perceived in all their complexity. In fact, politicians and State administrators focus their attention almost exclusively upon strategies and mechanisms for the control and stemming of these movements of people. And, when the mass-media report on the issue, you can often detect an overemphasis on the most dramatic aspects of its human and social costs, that is to say, on the deaths, criminality, prostitution, political terrorism, extreme poverty and the consequent social reactions, either violent or xenophobic, associated with migrations.

It is not difficult to recognize that when people find themselves having to leave their homes in search of safety, a livelihood, or otherwise ordinary means of survival, there are serious causes underneath such movement which illustrate the great problems with which the international community is confronted. Truly, we cannot afford to merely talk about human migration while ignoring both the causes at the root of it and the socio-cultural consequences that result from it. Such root causes and social implications comprise a long and frightening list demanding urgent action: extreme poverty, demographic imbalances, extreme nationalistic trends, structural unemployment, financial interdependence, hostility and violence against immigrants, refugees, and aliens in general.

The Church is particularly attentive to and feels close to these human problems. And so, by means of this Congress, it is our wish to reflect again on her ancient and, at the same time, new universal message mediated through the pastoral initiatives that demonstrate her maternal care in this field. As such, it is important to recall the Church’s attention to the culture and language of the foreigner, in order to promote his dignity, and protect his basic rights. Likewise, the “providential” vision of migration in the building of the Kingdom, the concept of Pentecostal communion embracing all diversities, the contribution of all, immigrants and refugees as well, to dialogue and peace among the peoples, are all part and parcel of the Church’s vision and ministry. Of course, I cannot fail to mention the very theme of this continental meeting, and the opportunities and challenges that we have yet to discover as we engage in this particular field of pastoral ministry at the beginning of the new millennium. 

From this standpoint, I would like to stress in particular the positive dimension of human migration in the perspective of the specific pastoral action of the Church. As a matter of fact, the Church is constantly in search, in continuity with her tradition, of new means to express her pastoral concerns, which have concretely addressed in the document Erga migrantes caritas Christi (The Love of Christ Towards the Migrants) issued by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, published on May 3rd 2004, and which was approved by Pope John Paul II on the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker (May 1st). In the overall view of the Church’s doctrine, the Document encourages a new and inspired interpretation of the migratory phenomenon, stating that «The cultural situation today, global and dynamic as it is, calls for the incarnation of the one faith in many cultures and thus represents an unprecedented challenge, a true kairňs for the whole People of God» (EMCC n. 34).

The Church is called to re-discover and to live in-depth her Catholic dimension, which in its fullness means a proactive witness of the Gospel, to bring the message of universal communion to all nations, and a unity free of geographical, historical, and cultural boundaries. Such a mission does not attempt to erase legitimate differences, but seeks to realize them and to respect the legitimate identity of every person. In this contemporary age, a time of “universal and more and more rapid mobility,” the Church is already planning a great number of activities and “workshops,” not only to assist people of diverse cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds on how to live together, but, more broadly, how to appreciate and to be transformed into mutually affirming communities.

I encourage you, then, to experience these days of study with a profound sense of mission, and to discern in prayer with the enthusiasm of Saint Paul, “the Apostle of the peoples” (Rm 1:5) whose two-thousandth anniversary of birth we are preparing to celebrate this year. That is why the Pontifical Council has proposed to the Holy Father as the theme for the next World Day of the Migrant and Refugee (on January 19th 2009), “Saint Paul the Migrant, ‘Apostle of the Peoples.’” Saint Paul had envisioned, by divine revelation, that the power of the “glorious gospel of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4) brings about an extraordinary project of communion, where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female – and, we can add, there is neither native nor foreigner – because [we] all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28 and Col 3:11).

May God bless our work!