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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

The Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care 

of Migrants and Itinerant People

and its Collaboration 

with the Episcopal Conferences of SECAM*


Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary

Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care

of Migrants and Itinerant People

Your Eminencies/Your Excellencies,

In the absence of Archbishop Stephen Fumio Hamao, who had to remain in Rome in view of preparations to receive the beretta, it is an honor for me to address this distinguished Assembly about a great concern that the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People shares with all pastors of SECAM, namely the plight of “migrants and itinerant people,” and, in particular, their pastoral care. The Pontifical Council I represent has in fact 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” (Pastor Bonus, art. 149-150, §1).

1. Migration in Africa

(See also your pastoral letter “Christ Our Peace”, nos. 24-25, and in the context of socio-economic inequality, nos. 26-32.)  

The thought of migration in Africa may first recall the drama known only too well by many of those here present: people driven out of their countries or internally displaced due to wars, ethnic conflicts, persecution, violation of human rights or ecological disasters. In addition there are other less eye-catching movements of people. For example, there are untold numbers of economic migrants, who leave economic and social conditions that do not allow them to make a decent living and enjoy basic security. Here too a basic human desire is at stake: to have a country they can really call home. Among them are seasonal and cross-border laborers as well as skilled and unskilled workers who seek employment in other countries in the hope of earning a worthy living for themselves and their families. We should not forget either the voluntary emigration of highly skilled persons, which, if permanent, can be a loss for Africa in spite of the fact that they can help with their remittances. Many African international students are also part of this “brain drain.” Finally, many migrants become part of irregular movements of people, ranging from overstaying visas to the possession of false documents or none at all, using smugglers or even falling into the trap of being trafficked in slave-like conditions.

Your Eminencies, Your Excellencies,

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 of Africa and Madagascar?

2. 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 formation of priests and other pastoral workers in human mobility (EAfr 133, 53-54), 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 (EAfr 138ff, 129; the poor Churches, also 130).

Over the past ten years our Council has been involved in organizing six pastoral consultations in Africa, which have emphasized these points. In addition we have had the joy of dialoging on these matters in our offices on the occasion of ad limina visits and in meeting some of you in your own dioceses. Today I would like to briefly present again an expression of the deep “concern for all the Churches” (2 Cor 11,28) that we share together, and with the Universal Pastor, for people on the move. What has guided our contacts is a theme frequently expressed in Ecclesia in Africa, namely the concept of organic pastoral solidarity (see EAfr 5; 16; 17; 51; 64; 72; 119 specifically dealing with refugees and internally displaced persons, recommending to give them material aid and pastoral support; 131-133).

When we examine these consultations and dialogues, we continually meet the conviction of the Bishops and the other participants that there is a real need for organized forms of solidarity that respond to the pastoral needs of migrants and refugees, and not only the humanitarian ones of food, medicine and other help, which are necessary, of course. To establish such solidarity in more efficient forms, our Council is convinced of the need of action in three areas, namely:

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 Ecclesia in Africa speaks about formation is impressive (see, for example, n. 133). 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. We believe the Letter is still relevant and make it available to you. Formation, however, is not just academic (EAfr 86); 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 Refugees 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 Church of origin and the Church of arrival, to assure an adequate pastoral presence.

 (1) In the 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 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 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 Family of the 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 with You for Migrants, Refugees and Itinerant People

Your Eminencies, Your Excellencies,

Our Pontifical Council deeply desires to work with you and your 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. The three consultations we organized in 1998 spoke in detail about formation (EAfr 133, §§2 and 3), structures and cooperation, and even promoted a project called Pastors without Borders, which has been very difficult to implement though it has been greeted with interest and even enthusiasm. These themes were again discussed at Regional Meeting in Cape Town in 2000, which recommended specific points for action. Practical difficulties of assuring an effective pastoral presence, however, should not deter us. Whatever name we give to proposals, migrants, refugees and displaced people will continue to seek from the Church not only bread but also the assurance that comes from its evangelizing and pastoral mission. We have to take up this challenge to assure the Church is active with its solutions and vision in the midst of a dramatic sign of our times. Formation for this purpose and organization are within the possibilities of all 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.

To end, specifically addressing SECAM in this phase of restructuring, I wonder if it would not be wise for it to have a Commission, a Department, a Sector, an umbrella desk covering all sections – you may call it as you wish – that has the responsibility of considering the phenomenon of human mobility, as a whole, from the pastoral point of view. This was the great intuition of Pope Paul VI, for the universal Church, when he instituted our Pontifical Council (at that time, it was of course a Pontifical Commission). That Commission, Department or Sector or umbrella desk covering all sections will deal with the specific pastoral care of the Church for all “people on the move”, including all the forms of mobility that we have previously mentioned. It does not go against territorial pastoral care. It goes beyond and is complementary to it, in accordance with Vatican Council II and the present legislation of the Church.

In this context, allow me to inform you that we will very soon publish an Instruction entitled “Erga migrantes charitas Christi” and remind you of our World Congress in November concerning the pastoral care of migrants and refugees. The theme is: “Starting afresh from Christ. Towards a new pastoral care for migrants and refugees: a) Today’s challenges; b) In the light of the Magisterium of the Church, from Vatican II till today; c) Stake everything on charity; d) The Sunday Eucharist and liturgy.”

Finally, I am handing over to your secretariat a collection of documents (the folder that we usually give to the Bishops who come for their ad limina visit) concerning our specific pastoral care.

Thank you!

* The 13th Plenary Assembly of SECAM (Dakar, Senegal, 30 September - 13 October 2003)