1. Historical Background
On 19 March 1970, with the Motu Proprio Apostolicae Caritatis, Pope Paul VI established the Pontificia Commissio de Spirituali Migratorum atque Itinerantium Cura, with the task of studying and providing pastoral care to people on the move such as: migrants, exiles, refugees, displaced people, fishermen and seafarers, air travelers, road transport workers, nomads, circus people, fairground workers, pilgrims and tourists, as well as those categories of people who, for various reasons, are involved in human mobility, such as students abroad, and operators and technicians engaged in large projects or scientific research at the international level who are obliged to move from one country to another.
Up to that date, responsibility for the various sectors of human mobility was assigned to several offices operating at various Roman Congregations. In the second half of the nineteenth century, movement was taken care of by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. Later, especially due to the influence of the Blessed Bishop Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, the Office for the Spiritual Care of Emigrants, was established at the Consistorial Congregation. Then after the Second World War, in 1952, Pope Pius XII established the Higher Council for Emigration within the same Congregation, which is now called the Congregation for Bishops.
In the same year, The Work of the Apostolatus Maris was established on behalf of seafarers at the same dicastery. In 1958, Pope Pius XII also granted the same Congregation responsibility for providing spiritual assistance to the faithful with specific duties and activities on board planes as well as to passengers travelling by air. This institution was called Apostolatus Coeli o Aëris. In 1965, Pope Paul VI founded the International Secretariat for the Direction of the Apostolatus Nomadum, also at the Consistorial Congregation, with the aim of bringing spiritual comfort to a population that does not have a fixed abode or to those living in similar conditions. In 1967, the Congregation of the Clergy was provided with an Office aimed at providing religious assistance to all people who come within the area of tourism.
However, with the Motu Proprio Apostolicae Caritatis, responsibilities for the various sectors of human mobility were grouped together under the Pontificia Commissio de Spirituali Migratorum atque Itinerantium Cura, which was made dependent on the Congregation of Bishops. This situation came to an end as it was said on 28 June 1988 with the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, which also changed the name.
The categories of people, who due to their particular circumstances are unable to benefit from the ordinary ministry of parishes or are completely without assistance (cf. Christus Dominus, 18), are namely, migrants, exiles, refugees, displaced people, fishermen and seafarers, air transport personnel, nomads, circus and fairground people, those who go on trips for reasons of piety, study or recreation, land transport workers and other similar categories (see P.B. 150 and 151 and the Circular Letter to the Bishops Conferences The Church and Human Mobility, 1978, II, F).
The Pontifical Council, an instrument the Pope uses to fulfill his universal mission (P.B., Introduction, no.7), brings the pastoral concern of the Church to bear on the special needs of those who have been forced to leave their native land or who do not have one. It also sees to it that these matters are considered with the attention they deserve (P.B., art.149).
It thereby promotes the pastoral care of people involved in human mobility:
Moreover, the Council regularly and directly follows the International Catholic Migration Commission by supporting its objectives and initiatives, participating in meetings of its management and promoting active collaboration with this Commission, and between it and other Organisations that have an interest in migrants and refugees.
The Dicastery, directed by the President, helped by the Secretary, assisted by the Under-Secretary, includes twenty-five Members who are Cardinals and Bishops, as well as about fifteen Councillors. The Pontifical Council is also served by some fifteen officials and two receptionistes. (click here for an up-to-date list).