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Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of the Migrants and Itinerant People 

II World Congress for the Pastoral Care of Foreign Students

(Rome, 13th – 16th December 2005)


Final Document


The Congress was held at the “Casa Maria Immacolata”, in Rome, and was organized by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, on the topic: “The Foreign Students and the Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi”. Its President and Secretary chaired the sessions of the meeting. Two officials of the Dicastery were present as well. Bishops, priests, religious men and women, and lay people, attended as representatives of eighteen countries (Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden - for the Nordic Countries -, Switzerland, Tanzania, USA) and of CCEE and CELAM. There were two fraternal Delegates (from the Anglican Communion and the World Council of Churches), delegates of various religious congregations (Legionaries of Christ, Salesians), and of Opus Dei and representatives of lay associations and ecclesial movements (IYCS, MIEC, SECIS, UCSEI, KAAD, AII, Focolari, Community of Saint’Egidio) and two observers.

   With a warm welcome, the President of the Pontifical Council, H. Em. Stephen Fumio Cardinal Hamao, opened the Congress by highlighting the importance of foreign students [here we use the expression “foreign students”, which is quite traditional, although some countries prefer the term “international students”], who call for the attention and pastoral care of the Universal Church and the particular Churches. Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary of the Dicastery, presented the theme and the agenda of the meeting and likewise offered some criteria for a specific pastoral care of foreign students. He also indicated a vast and important field of apostolate, which requires such a specific pastoral vision. Then the two fraternal Delegates, Rev. Dr. Richard Burridge, representing the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Dr. Gary Vachicouras, Delegate of W.C.C., greeted the assembly. After this, all the participants presented themselves.

On the second day, after the celebration of the Holy Mass to implore the Holy Spirit for assistance, the situation of foreign students in the world was presented by the Rev. Canon Charles de Hemptinne, President of SECIS (Service of European Churches for International Students), based on the answers to a questionnaire sent previously. This was followed by a Round Table at which the representatives of the different countries, institutions and associations presented their points of view and shared their experiences. On his part, H. E. Archbishop Robert Sarah, Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, introduced the topic “The Ecumenical, Inter-religious and Intercultural Dimension of the Pastoral Care for Foreign Students” (EMCC, NN. 49-69), followed by study groups. 

On the third day, H.E. Msgr. Cesare Nosiglia, Archbishop-Delegate of the CCEE for the Pastoral Care in Universities, who was supposed to speak on the “Guidelines for Pastoral Care in the Universities of Europe, with special attention given to Pastoral Agents and their Formation” (EMCC, NN. 70-88), delegated Msgr. Leuzzi to read his text because he could not attend the meeting. Later on Archbishop Michael Miller, Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, delivered a speech entitled “Towards a Missionary Pastoral Care of Proclamation, Evangelization and Dialogue” (EMCC, NN. 89-104), followed by a second series of workshops. 

 The summit of the Congress was the participation in the Holy Mass for Roman University students, presided over by H.E. Card. Camillo Ruini, followed by an audience with the Holy Father for all participants.

The words of the Pope were received with great joy. He said: 

“I am also pleased on this occasion to welcome those taking part in the World Congress of Pastoral Care for Foreign Students, organized by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. I address an affectionate welcome to everyone. […]

 I would now like to turn my attention to the foreign students.Their presence is a growing phenomenon and is an important field of pastoral action for the Church. Indeed, young people who leave their own country in order to study encounter many problems and especially the risk of an identity crisis and a loss of spiritual and moral values. 

Moreover, for many young people the possibility of studying abroad is a unique opportunity to become better able to contribute to the development of their own countries and participate actively in the Church’s mission. It is important to continue on the journey undertaken to meet the needs of these brothers and sisters of ours.” 

On the last day, the assembly listened to the reports of the workshops and the propositions of the Congress for the Final Document.Reaffirming their firm intention to pursue the work of these days, in a spirit of collaboration and some kind of coordination, the participants examined strategies for the future, taking into account methodologies and objectives, which are summarised in the following conclusions and recommendations.

With words of thanks, Card. Stephen Fumio Hamao closed the Congress. 




  • Jesus Christ is our icon of the ‘man on the move’(Luke 9:58; EMCC 15). 
  • Christ said ‘I was a stranger and you made me welcome’ (Mt. 25:35).
  • We are all immigrants in the Church: that is, we enter the Church through baptism. 
  • The Church is the pilgrim people of God, on the way to ‘our heavenly home’.
  • Hospitality is part of our essential ecclesial identity; human encounter is vital.
  • As ‘Christ welcomes us’ (Romans 15:7), so do we welcome the stranger in our pastoral care towards foreign students. 

On the Reality

The phenomenon of student migration is complex. 

It is a global reality, it is a gift also. 

Students are ‘special’ migrants between continents, within continents and within countries.

Various types of foreign students exist, for example: 

  • ‘free movers’: they are students who are self-financed and are culturally connected; 
  • the ‘invited students’ who receive scholarships;
  • refugee or ‘economic migrant’ students (who are sometimes illegal or transient);

Also we can find various types of professors who are mobile.

It is important to know why students move and how they are recruited.       

In any case, with the globalisation of learning, university education has become a commodity, bought and sold. The Church nevertheless believes that education is a public good, not just a commodity, and that students are human persons who need to be respected as such. 

Foreign student recruitment has become also a global business.  

  • The wealthy generally have open access to higher education, while poor students face many challenges. 

  • Many countries are privatising university education and for students its cost can be a heavy burden.

  • University fees are often much higher for foreign students than for local citizens.

  • But some countries, agencies and universities offer scholarships.

Pastoral care for foreign students has an ecumenical, an inter-religious and an intercultural dimension and is a partnership involving the university, the host country and that of origin, the local Churches and chaplaincies, as well as student organisations and the foreign students themselves.

Pastoral welcome and solidarity is also a ‘bridge’ between peoples, but with the following consequences:

  • Foreign students experience culture shock and secularisation, which sometimes lead to the loss of faith. Students who are unprepared are also an easy target for conversion to other denominations or religions (here the question of proselytism and sects is to be considered). However many of them are an example of faith in secularised areas. 
  • Some foreign students face a ‘double estrangement’: first from their host country and then from their home country upon their return.
  • Many foreign students initially plan to return home after their studies, but do not do so for a variety of reasons (search for a better standard of living, politically not safe to return, relationships)
  • Foreign students seek more than just spiritual help: they also need concrete things. 
  • There is often little formal training for chaplains and pastoral agents concerning the specific needs of the pastoral care for foreign students.

Pastoral Response

The pastoral care (ministry) for foreign students takes on many different shapes and forms in different countries, but there are many good, positive examples of welcome and solidarity (offering advocacy, scholarships, housing, emergency funding, helping to obtain visas, etc.).

Responding to the specific needs of human mobility (foreign students) is an important part of the Church’s mission. In fact:

  • Chaplaincies create a place of meeting and sharing; a place of openness, free from prejudice.
  • Some chaplaincies have a unique and specialized pastoral care for foreign students.
  • Others incorporate foreign students into local chaplaincy programs or connect them with the local parish.
  • Many chaplains focus on hospitality and create ‘a safe place’ ministry.
  • Liturgy is an important dimension of the Catholic pastoral care for foreign students.
  • Therefore many chaplaincies offer Liturgies celebrated in their languages. When Liturgy is held in the language of the host country, readings and hymns are to be fittingly adapted to include foreign students. 
  • Spiritual, social and cultural events are of special importance to them.
  • Chaplains work with the “International Student Office” in the universities.  
  • “International Student Offices” provide opportunities for cultural integration, as well as help and advice about visas, economic matters and studies.
  • In some countries, chaplaincies provide hostels for foreign students.
  • Not every university chaplaincy has a priest. 
  • In any case, Catholic leaders are important for the students.
  • Some of them desire to have contacts with the university chaplaincy in the host country before they arrive.
  • Sometimes Church pastors are so focused on other church issues that it is difficult for them to emphasize or dedicate themselves to a specific pastoral care for foreign students.



For Chaplains and University Pastoral Agents

As chaplains and university pastoral agents we have to:

  1. Seek time when foreign students can ‘speak about faith with pride’ and humility  and all will ‘listen with respect’. Dialogue is vital also in these cases.
  2. Recognize that every encounter is at heart a reciprocal friendship; chaplaincy is a path to developing a healthy community of friends in Christ and/or in humanity.
  3. Participate with joy in the festivals and cultural celebrations of foreign students and, with deep sorrow, in their pains and fatigue.
  4. Remain in contact with alumni so that current foreign students will learn how their predecessors contribute positively to their home country.
  5. Connect foreign students with good host families.
  6. Create a welcoming committee to foster communication between foreign students and the Catholic community upon arrival.
  7.  Listen with patience, sympathy and attentive ears to student reality, recognising the importance of direct hospitality, if possible.
  8. Encourage collaboration between the university chaplain and pastoral agents, the whole diocesan community and student organisations.
  9. Help foreign students find accommodations, assisting eventually and when possible in their search for employment and finding financial sponsors (cfr. Gaudium et Spes, 60, and the Universal  Declaration on Human Rights, art. 26).
  10. Develop leadership qualities of foreign students for them to help one another and to have their own cultural gifts valued by their host community. They must also be capable of receiving from the latter (Church and society).
  11. Encourage foreign students to appreciate their vocation of service in their home country, when they return, and to contribute to the transformation of their countries human and spiritual condition.
  12. Create attractive web pages for chaplaincies, given that many foreign students select their university through web searches.
  13. Not to forget the specific pastoral care for foreign students in the strict sense of the word (Liturgy, Word of God, Sacraments, spiritual formation), because of social issues.
  14. Work ecumenically, with a perspective of interdenominational education, open to inter-religious dialogue, without forgetting each one’s own identity.

For Dioceses or Episcopal Conferences

We encourage them to:

  1. Make adequate provisions for chaplains and campus ministers at all higher education institutions, taking care also of their preparation.
  2. Provide special services for foreign students who are identified as “refugees” and IDPs, also by offering scholarships.
  3. Provide, as far as possible, social assistance to foreign students in need, regarding their legal and social rights, and the necessary paper work.
  4. Establish appropriate contact with civil authorities, human rights organisations, health and psychological organisations, etc., to improve the condition of foreign students.
  5. Also invite foreign students to help create a pastoral plan for themselves. Catholic student groups and student leaders in the chaplaincy play an important role in the pastoral care of foreign students and in advocating on their behalf, both in the university and in broader society.
  6. Help foreign students face the challenges of secularisation.
  7. Have a national, continental and universal vision of this specific pastoral care. A national Bishop Promoter in this field could be appointed.

Pontifical Council 

We would like to ask the Pontifical Council to:

  1. Help create the conviction that a worldwide directory of university chaplaincies is important, so that from the grassroots level a form of cooperation would emerge towards a concrete realisation of this project. It could be simpler to start at the national level. 
  2. Clarify the connections from chaplain to bishop, to national bishops’ conference and then to the offices of the Holy See.
  3. Encourage university chaplains to engage in appropriate ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. 
  4. Continue to gather chaplains from all over the world to share experiences and deepen their understanding of the specific pastoral care for foreign students.
  5. Promote the pastoral care of foreign students in the local Churches.
  6. Encourage all Church authorities to adapt to the globalisation of education.
  7. On the diocesan, national, and international levels, to encourage effective pastoral planning for the needs of foreign students.
  8. Continue to gather together members of the various Dicasteries of the Roman Curia to respond together to the pastoral concerns of foreign students.
  9. Establish opportunities to study the worldwide realities of foreign students and their economic, personal and spiritual needs.