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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 111, December 2009



Message of the Anglican Communion 


Revd. Dr. Nicholas Sagovsky

Canon Theologian of the Westminster Abbey – Great Britain



On behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, may I begin by saying how helpful it is to the Anglican Communion to be invited to contribute to this conference. We are a Communion with over 80 million members in 44 autonomous, interdependent churches in over 160 countries of the world.[1] We are widely known to have certain problems in maintaining our unity. One thing on which we are absolutely united is the need to care for migrants and refugees.  

The Local Church, Refugees and Migrants  

A brief sketch of Anglican pastoral care for migrants and refugees should probably begin with the model of the local church that welcomes the migrants and refugees who come into the community. This is true of Anglican churches in many parts of the world. Where they once ministered to English expatriates and local people, they now minister to diverse communities that include members from many of the world’s diaspora communities: people from Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, the Philippines, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe.

One example of an Anglican church known to have an extensive ministry of this kind is St Philip’s Cathedral, Gulu, which is in a region of northern Uganda that has known 25 years war. Anglicanism there has been strengthened by the martyrdom of Archbishop Janani Luwum under the dictator Idi Amin. Luwum was an Acholi from this region. Due to the raids of the Lord’s Resistance Army about 1.6 million people have been displaced, tens of thousands have died or been maimed, more than 400,000 people were made homeless. At a recent count, the districts of Gulu and Amuru had a total population of about 450,000 people, two thirds of whom were living in one of over 70 camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).[2] The Diocese of Northern Uganda works with the IDPs to improve their living conditions, make information available about the situation in the camps, and act as an advocate for their right to a decent life. At the Cathedral, there is a women’s development centre, where sewing skills are taught. Graduates receive a sewing machine, partly funded by past graduates. They in turn will be asked to contribute to support future graduates from their earnings. After a peace agreement two years ago, people are leaving the camps for their original villages, though often leaving behind the elderly and the sick who cannot make the journey and need special pastoral care. 

The Local Church as a Migrant Community

There are places in the world where Anglican dioceses have been displaced and have migrated as a whole. One such was Sudan, during the civil war. Communities of Christians, with their bishops, fled bombing and migrated to refugee camps either around Khartoum, on the border, or outside the country. The story of these years (1983-2000) is one of extraordinary suffering, of displacement of whole communities, of ecumenism, church growth and evangelism. To my shame I knew nothing of this until recently: then I discovered that the Sudanese church is a migrant church, which has grown to an extraordinary maturity through suffering. It is wonderful we have Sudanese participants in this conference to share their experiences with us. Let me take just one example of many: the story of the pilgrimage of the people of Yei between 1990 and 1997. Early in 1990, when Yei was under threat of attack, Bishop Seme Solomona of the Episcopal Church of Sudan and Father Peter Dada, Vicar-General of the Catholic Diocese of Yei, led their people out of the town. A convoy of more than 100 vehicles, with 10,000 people on foot, set out. For three days the convoy travelled by night until they came to the deserted border town of Kaya. The community, led by Bishop Seme and Father Dada stayed there for three years, growing to 30,000. On 3 August 1993, again under threat of attack, it crossed the border into Uganda. Bishop Seme compared the sight to the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. Not a life was lost – and several babies were born.  When the community re-established itself in Uganda the first buildings to be constructed were churches. By 1996-7 the refugees were being targeted by Ugandan rebels. The way opened, miraculously, to go back to Yei. Bishop Seme returned to his cathedral in time to celebrate communion on Easter Day, 1997. Within a short time 80,000 refugees had returned from Uganda full of gratitude for the Lord’s deliverance.[3] Throughout the time of exile leadership and pastoral care had been provided by Bishop Seme and Father Dada, working together.  

Inter-Anglican Agencies

There are Anglican initiatives which link up people from many parts of the world. Migrant and refugee women face special hardships and dangers. A key organisation in supporting them and their children is the Mothers’ Union, which, as a worldwide organisation, has the capacity to raise funds, to channel support and to help people being forcibly returned. An example of this is the work that Mothers' Union in Burundi has been doing with the huge numbers of internally displaced people and repatriated families. During the conflict in Burundi many families fled into other parts of the country or into neighbouring Tanzania to escape the fighting. Now that relative peace prevails in Burundi many of these families in Tanzania are being forced to return to Burundi by the Tanzanian Government despite the fact that many of them have lived there for over a decade and have married Tanzanians. This forced repatriation has been a traumatic experience for thousands, the majority of them women and children. Returning to Burundi with very few possessions, they face an uncertain future - not knowing whether they have a home to go back to and often facing some hostility from those who stayed behind during the conflict. Mothers' Union Burundi is helping the repatriated families physically, emotionally and spiritually - providing the families with basic supplies and equipment to help them start to rebuild their lives, organising skills training and running peace and reconciliation programmes helping to unite communities torn apart by hostility and distrust. Mothers' Union is also running a Literacy and Development Programme in Burundi and in Buye diocese the vast majority of learners are those who were displaced from their homes during the war and still live in displacement camps. Many have told stories of how they had to flee with only the clothes they were wearing and were left desolate, struggling to live in a foreign place without the means to make a living. When the Literacy and Development Programme was offered to them they accepted with open arms and since then the displacement camps have been transformed. The process of learning together, sharing their problems and experiences and working hand in hand on development projects is key. It has helped to rebuild trust and encourage reconciliation within communities previously destroyed by the war.

Other Anglican Mission agencies such as USPG: Anglicans in World Mission, the Church Mission Society and Anglican Frontier Missions have for many years deployed personnel and funding to support migrant communities and refugees. Following the recent mass movement of peoples in the Swat Valley Pakistan the Anglican mission Global Teams was active with local partners to seek ways of ministering to these people. The South American Missionary Society (SAMS) has historically taken up land issues on behalf of the Chaco Indian communities of South America after they were moved off their historic lands and CMS Australia has a very long history of work with migrating and displaced aboriginal peoples in the Northern Territories of Australia. Much more recently the Church of Nigeria Missionary Society has taken up the challenge of working with the nomadic peoples of northern Nigeria and neighbouring countries.

One of the biggest issues today in the need to minister to those who migrate in order to find employment and incomes for their families. One of the best examples of work with such ‘economic migrants’ is the Mission for Migrant Workers[4] which is based with St. John’s Cathedral in Hong Kong, but similar examples of Anglican work could be cited in many parts of the world. 

The Anglican Refugees and Migrants Network

The concerns of this conference are timely, as only in May this year was the decision taken to breathe fresh life into the Anglican Refugees and Migrants Network.   

In 1981, the Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers (now the Mission for Migrant Workers) was adapted by the St. John’s Cathedral, Hong Kong, with the acceptance of the then Anglican Diocese of Hong Kong and Macau (now the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui). It aimed to provide pastoral care, paralegal assistance and advocacy for migrants in Hong Kong. This form of direct services eventually expanded to cover several migrant and refugee-receiving countries in Asia and the Pacific through the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants that was established in 1983.

Following a specific request from the 1983 Primates’ meeting, the Anglican Refugee and Migrant Network (ARMN) was established as an officially-accredited Anglican Communion Network.[5] However, at this stage the network did not thrive.

After the meeting of the Anglican Communion Council (ACC) in Kingston, Jamaica, in May 2009, the network has been restarted . The network continues to be based in Hong Kong, and is now preparing for an international consultation, with representatives from the whole Anglican Communion. It publishes a newsletter and is assembling materials that will be of help to Anglicans and others working in this field. Undoubtedly there should be links between this network and participants in this conference. It can be contacted through the Anglican Communion Office. 


I would like to conclude by giving thanks for the gifts brought to the worldwide church through the suffering of refugee and migrant Christians. May we say together, in English, the following prayer, taken from the hymn “Let us Give Thanks” by Mary Alueel Ngongdit Garang in 1992, when she was displaced to a refugee camp due to the civil war between the North and the South of the Sudan. We used these words recently in Westminster Abbey when we were visited by church leaders from the Sudan. Let us share them together in Rome:

Minister: In confidence, let us remember God’s faithfulness.


            Men:                Let us give thanks;

                                   Let us give thanks to the Lord

                                   In the day of devastation;

                                   And in the day of contentment.

            Women:           Jesus has bound the world round with

                                   The pure light of the word of his Father.

                                   When we beseech the Lord

                                   And unite our hearts and have hope,

                                   Than the evil has no power.

            Men:                God has not forgotten us.

            Women:           Evil is departing and holiness is advancing,

                                   These are the things that shake the earth.

            All:                   Do not look back;

                                   we are the people who have received the life  of Christ.

                                   Let us show forth the light

                                   Of the Son of God.

            Men:                Let the name of God be praised,

                                   He who has not changed His laws.

            Women:           We are in awe of you, our Father,

                                   The God who has no end;

                                   Catch us as we fall

                                   And show us the ways of life.

            All:                   Do not look back;

                                   we are the people who have received the life of Christ.

                                   Let us show forth the light

                                   Of the Son of God. 


[1] See the Anglican Communion Office website:

[2] Ref to their website.

[3]  R. Werner, W. Anderson, A. Wheeler, Day of Devastation, Day of Contentment ( Nairobi: St Paul Communications, 2000), pp. 568-70.


[5] Resolution 39 of ACC-6.