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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People


Renewal Movements 

and the Evangelization of Families 

in the Diaspora*


Archbishop Stephen Fumio HAMAO

President Pontifical Council 

In today’s world characterized also by human mobility, families who leave their homeland, due to severe economic conditions, environmental pressure, natural calamities, wars or persecutions for reasons of race, ideology, culture or creed, may find themselves in a context of geographic and/or social diaspora.[1] Migrant and refugee families may therefore be forced to live in a country which is quite far from their own, different in language, culture and even religion. Suddenly they are among people who find them strange and they may feel, in varying degrees, unwelcome.

In reality, they need much more understanding than we realize because, at least initially, families in general move only when it is their very survival that is at stake. According to Patrick Taran, an ILO migration expert, “it is less the absolute differences between countries that motivate most migration; rather, people tend to move only when their situation and that of their families falls below a critical threshold of tolerance, below which they no longer perceive possibilities of survival according to local norms of safety, dignity and well-being.”[2]

Under these conditions, the starting point for these families, at departure, is already a traumatic experience. Their hope for a better future may grow even dimmer in the destination country where they are met with enormous difficulties. A document produced by Caritas Internationalis identified the following problems:

The cultural differences which the family is forced to confront without any preparation, the difficulties of learning other languages, the intergenerational problems often tied to the difficult mix of traditions and customs of the countries of origin and those of the new places, psychological trauma, the sense of insecurity and uncertainty about the future: these are some of the problems which must be confronted by a family forced to migrate. These problems which often develop in conditions of extreme poverty can be exacerbated with migration, whether it be through internal displacement, in refugee camps or on the periphery of large cities. Such migration often is undertaken in an atmosphere of a total lack of privacy and in an absence of support services of any type. Thus migration often results in the accentuation of such negative phenomena as begging, the sale of minors, and usury, all of which end up causing greater vulnerability among those who are already weak.[3]

There is still another reason why migrant and refugee families and ethnic minorities, in general, have been relegated to the diaspora. Nation-states would consider them a threat to cultural homogeneity. Thus, historically, they very often tried to control the formation of ethnic communities either through assimilation or segregation. Sometimes they were pressured to give up their original culture and acquire the culture of the host country. Fortunately, assimilationist practices were later on dropped in favor of multiculturalism. This means that immigrants are now encouraged to integrate into the host society while retaining their cultural distinctiveness. [4]

Yet, even with the advent of multiculturalism, skills and education of immigrants do not always guarantee employment in jobs commensurate with their qualifications, or to set up a business, in the destination country. As a result, families at times opt to send one of the partners back to the home country to work or go on a business venture, while the other partner remains in the host country to stay with the children, who are born or grew up and are educated there. This results in still another family problem related to migration: the prolonged separation of spouses and its consequences. [5]

Very briefly, I shall mention the most frequent results: loneliness that could lead to infidelity, causing marital instability and, often, broken families;[6] the adoption of unaccustomed roles by one of the partners. The children, too, have to do more in the house to compensate for the lacking parent’s absence. Household chores could be demanding for the children and could cause resentment towards both parents. [7]

It is exactly in this context that Christians are called to proclaim to these families in diaspora the Good News: that God is love and, out of love, He became man, who, by His death and resurrection, restored man’s lost unity with God. In doing so, He also gave back to every man and woman the dignity of being a child of God. Moreover, He revealed man, and his worth, to himself, for he must be so important in the eyes of God to gain such a great Redeemer.[8]

Today, at the dawn of the new millennium and in a globalized world that is experiencing the new and uncertain mingling of peoples and cultures, the Holy Father has renewed his summons to the new evangelization. The proclamation of the Word of God can no longer be the same as it was in the past, for times have changed and communication has, in some way, become more demanding. New evangelization also requires new ardour. As Pope John Paul II expressed it, “we must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardour of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost”.[9] This implies the need for a new sense of mission in the Church involving all members of the People of God. “A new apostolic outreach is needed which will be lived as the everyday commitment of Christian communities and groups.”[10] New evangelization must also be new in its methods. Today, in fact, people no longer listen to teachers unless they are also witnesses.[11]

There is therefore an urgent need for “powerful proclamation and solid, in-depth Christian formation.”[12] Proclamation will be forceful if it is done by “mature Christian personalities, conscious of their baptismal identity, of their vocation and mission in the Church and in the world!”[13] However, in modern-day context where practically everything is communitarian, individual proclamation and witness is no longer the only way to go. Thus, “there is a great need for living Christian communities”[14] so that the Church today, in the harmonious commitment of all its components, can manifest itself not only as proclamation, but also as witness of love and unity.[15]  

To this critical challenge, the Holy Spirit, who keeps watch over mankind’s pilgrimage through history, responded also by giving rise to “the movements and the new ecclesial communities.”[16] In the movements and new communities, it is especially taught “that faith is not abstract talk, nor vague religious sentiment, but new life in Christ instilled by the Holy Spirit.”[17]

What are these new ecclesial movements? Allow me to refer to a definition given by the Holy Father himself: “They represent one of the most significant fruits of that springtime in the Church which was foretold by the Second Vatican Council… Their presence is encouraging because it shows that this springtime is advancing and revealing the freshness of the Christian experience based on personal encounter with Christ. Even in the diversity of their forms, these movements are marked by a common awareness of the ‘newness’ which baptismal grace brings to life, through a remarkable longing to reflect on the mystery of communion with Christ and with their brethren, through sound fidelity to the patrimony of the faith handed on by the living stream of Tradition. This gives rise to a renewed missionary zeal which reaches out to the men and women of our time in the concrete situations in which they find themselves, and turns its loving attention to the dignity, needs and destiny of each individual.”[18]

The birth of the new ecclesial movements came almost together with the ecclesial renewal promoted by the Second Vatican Council.[19] Although the charisms that give life to these movements do not add anything to the richness of the depositum fidei which is faithfully safeguarded by the Church, they are “a moving and convincing reminder to live the Christian experience to the full, with intelligence and creativity. Therein lies the basis for finding adequate responses to the challenges and needs of ever-changing times and historical circumstances”.[20] Ecclesial movements are an expression of the charismatic dimension, which is co-essential with the institutional dimension to the divine constitution of the Church. They “help to make the mystery of Christ and his saving grace present in the world.[21] Thus they “represent a true gift of God both for new evangelization and for missionary activity properly so-called.”[22] For this reason, the Holy Father recommends “that they be spread, and … used to give fresh energy … to the Christian life and to evangelization, within a pluralistic view of the ways in which Christians can associate and express themselves.”[23]

These ecclesial movements, therefore, have a role to play also in evangelizing families, wherever they are in the world, even in diaspora. “Thanks to this powerful ecclesial experience,” Pope John Paul II affirmed, “wonderful Christian families have come into being which are open to life, true ‘domestic Churches’. ”[24]

But their evangelizing power goes even beyond the visible boundaries of the Church. This is a consequence of their missionary thrust and openness to all forms of dialogue which come forth from the awareness that the Church is called to unity not only in itself but also in relation to the other Christian Churches or ecclesial communities, to the various religions and with every man of good will.[25] To illustrate this, let me tell you the story[26] of a refugee family from Afghanistan who fled into the Netherlands.

Abdul (fictitious name) suddenly found himself and his whole family in a container-like house, in a Dutch refugee camp. Being a Muslim, he wanted to pray, but could not find a mosque. He knew there was a Catholic Church nearby so he went there, hoping not only to find a place of prayer but also people who could become his friends. One day, at the Church, he met a woman to whom he was able to tell his story. She invited his whole family to her home and introduced them to her family. They belong to one of these ecclesial movements. To make a long story short, both families have started living together the golden rule: “Do unto others what you would have others do unto you, or do not do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you.” This saying is valid for all religions.

One day, one of Abdul’s sons came home crying. An adult refugee slapped him. Abdul was very angry and wanted to confront the man, but the latter refused to talk to him. Abdul thought of telling the camp director, but he remembered that it was a rule in the camp that anyone who would hurt a child would be put in isolation. He then decided not to do that to the man, but instead try harder to be reconciled with him. One day, he met the man again and decided to give him some pieces of candy he had in his pocket. This was a small positive action that started a long walk towards reconciliation. Abdul and his wife are undergoing psychiatric care for the trauma they had experienced. Now, they feel that the knowledge that God loves them is their best psychiatric treatment.

Allow me to close with this reflection. By virtue of their baptism, all the faithful participate in the threefold mission of Christ as priest, prophet and king. They are therefore bound to “to strive so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all people through the world”[27] After all, “from the very origins of Christianity, the laity – as individuals, families and entire communities – shared in spreading the faith”.[28]

 Families in diaspora can be evangelized by members of ecclesial movements, but families in diaspora, too, can be part of these movements and be evangelizers themselves. Christian families in diaspora, in fact, are not exempt from the right and duty to fulfill the mission to evangelize. Migrant and refugee families are indeed the first immediate apostles to other migrants and refugees.[29]

Furthermore, evangelization needs to continue within the family. Parents are educators of their children in the faith and children learn from concrete life experiences. Quoting Pope John Paul II, “in a situation of diaspora and growing irreligiosity, the family must be given back the role of being the primary place of catechesis and of being the domestic Church.”[30]

In all this, the role of ecclesial movements can be very important. Joined in communion for new evangelization in the one Church of Jesus Christ, allowing the Spirit of mutual love to guide them in coordinating their missionary, apostolic and social efforts, respectful of the characteristics of each one,[31] they can help bring the springtime of the Church into full bloom. Through and with them, families in diaspora will no longer be a minority group but full-fledged members of the one People of God

* Fourth World Meeting of Families, (January 2003), Manila, Philippines.

[1]cf. Pope John Paul II, Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees (MDMR) 1987, no. 4a.

[2]Patrick A. Taran, “Human Rights of Migrants: Challenges of the New Decade”, International Migration, Vol. 38, No. 6, Special Issue 2/2000, p. 13.

 [3]Caritas Internationalis, The Family, a Resource for Church and for Society: Guidelines for Action, Rome, 1999, pp. 47-48.

[4]cf. Elsie Seckyee Ho, “Multi-local Residence, Transnational Networks: Chinese ‘Astronaut’ Families in New Zealand”, Asian and Pacific Migration Journal (APMJ), Vol. 11, No. 1, 2002, pp. 146-147.

[5]cf. ibid., pp. 153-154.
[6]Graeme Hugo, “Effects of International Migration on the Family in Indonesia”, APMJ, Vol. 11, No. 1, 2002, p. 23.
[7]cf. Yen Le Espiritu, “Filipino Navy Stewards and Filipina Health Care Professionals: Immigration, Work and Family Relations”, APMJ, Vol. 11, No. 1, 2002, pp. 52-53.
[8]cf. Redemptor Hominis (RH), nos. 9-10. 
[9]cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte (NMI), no. 40.
[10] ibid.
[11]cf. Redemptoris Missio (RM), no. 42.
[12]Pope John Paul II, “Address on the occasion of the Meeting with the Ecclesial Movements and the New Communities” (Rome, 30 May 1998) (henceforth Address), no. 7. 
[13] ibid.
[14] ibid.
[15]Giandfranco Ghirlanda, SJ., Preface of Christoph Hegge, Il Vaticano II e i movimenti ecclesiali: Una ricezione carismatica, Città Nuova, Rome, 2001 quoted in Agostino Marchetto (Archbishop), “Il Concilio Vaticano II e i “movimenti eclesiali”, People on the Move, Vol. XXXIV, No. 90, 2002, p. .
[16]Pope John Paul II, op. cit.
[17] ibid.
[18]Pope John Paul II, , “Message”, Proceedings of the World Congress of the Ecclesial Movements (Rome, 27-29 May 1998) (henceforth WCEM 1998), no. 2, p.16.
[19]cf. Piero Coda, “The Ecclesial Movements, Gift of the Spirit”, WCEM 1998, p. 101.
[20]Pope John Paul II, op. cit., no. 4, p.18.
[21]cf. ibid., no. 5, pp.18-19.
[22]cf. RM 72.
[23] ibid.
[24]Pope John Paul II, “Address”, no. 7. 
[25]cf. Agostino Marchetto (Archbishop), op. cit.
[26]narrated during the V Meeting of the Moslem Friends of the Focolare Movement, Castelgandolfo, Italy, 1-3 November 2002.
[27] RM 71.
[28] ibid.
[29]cf. MDMR 1987, 4b.
[30]MDMR 1987, 4c.
[31]cf. Agostino Marchetto (Archbishop), op. cit.