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Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N° 90,  December 2002, p. 113-127

Towards an Ecclesiology of Migration*

Rev. Fr. Michael A. BLUME, S.V.D.,

Undersecretary, Pontifical Council for the

Pastoral Care of Migrations and Itinerant People

Migration has become “systemic” in our world and in our Church and will remain so for the foreseeable future. When scholars eventually write the history of the Pilgrim Church in the 21st century, they will not be able to avoid speaking about the Church and migration. The next hundred years will require creativity and determination to assure that presence.

1.  Migration, a sign of our times

One of the phenomena that the Second Vatican Council considers a “sign of our times,” which the Church is called to scrutinize and interpret in the light of the Gospel, is migration: “It is also noteworthy how many men are being induced to migrate on various counts, and are thereby changing their manner of life. Thus a man's ties with his fellows are constantly being multiplied, and at the same time ‘socialization’ brings further ties, without however always promoting appropriate personal development and truly personal relationships.”[1] So let us scrutinize migration a bit and try to interpret it in the light of the gospel. What are some notable aspects of this sign of our times?

First, there is a need for migration, and in fact any areas in the world will have a hard time surviving without it, Europe being one of them. There are several scenarios available to describe what it might be the future, and practically all of them say that an increase in migration is inevitable.[2] That also means more peoples and cultures are going to meet and in some way interact.

What is inseparably linked with this so called “replacement migration” are potentially devastating effects on countries of origin in the so called “brain drain” or, as some call it today, the “brain hunt.”  This requires serious ethical reflection that needs to be concretized in mutually beneficial policies.[3] What is more, it is also a fact that many nations need emigration to survive, as for example, through the remittances of migrants that contribute significantly to the economies of their home countries.[4]

Second, migration is a profoundly human reality, not just a question of the numbers of people needed to fill gaps in labor markets abroad. Wherever people migrate, this inevitably involves complex human and social issues, such as the meeting of people of different cultures on unfamiliar territory, and the experience of being alone and far from familiar people and things that give meaning and stability to life.  When we talk about cultures,[5] that inevitably includes religion. So the meetings of different cultures involve the encounter of people of different religious faiths or different experiences of the same faith. In the project of getting different cultures to live together, religion can play a major role – positive or negative –  as it significantly conditions attitudes to the stranger and other cultures.

Third, there is a need for resources to “manage” migration in the effort to make it more humane, respectful of human rights, socially less disruptive. The means are largely in the domain of countries with resources though they do not find the project easy.

Fourth, migration is more than meets the eye.  Poorer countries are often at the mercy of largely unplanned movements of people, whose main driving force is the brutal law of supply and demand for labor, considered a commodity to be acquired at the best price. It is a law that often abstracts labor from the human beings who perform it. The massive migrations in search of labor and survival within poorer areas of the world seldom reach the international media.  These, however, involve the majority of the 150 million people on the move, of whom only a small part actually reach Europe or North America. Under the term “unmanaged migration”  we should not forget people uprooted due to persecution, human rights abuses, war, ecological and economic disasters. These are the refugees and displaced people. While this is surely the most chaotic experience of migration, it can also be the result of deliberately planned decisions and policies. Making refugees, for example, has become a political and military tactic.

The Church is called to respond to this reality in its midst in a pastoral and missionary way. This has already been happening in practice and theology throughout history of the Pilgrim Church, but perhaps more intensely in the last 150 years when the Holy See institutionalized this concern for the whole Church.

The next hundred years will need to see the Church at all levels as a positive environment that also promotes the unity of all peoples affected by migration.

2.  Migration as an opportunity

Despite all the problems of migration, Catholic teaching on it maintains a basic optimism and positive approach. When contrasted with the usual media reporting on migration, Catholic teaching, whether coming from the Holy Father, from bishops’ conferences, or dioceses, is remarkably “upbeat.”

What are the main “optimistic” elements?  First, migration is a privileged occasion for the meeting of cultures that promotes the unity of the human race and the mutual understanding of peoples and civilizations.

Second, “integration” is possible! When migrants are neither held back nor forced ahead, “integration” can take place on equal footing with other members of the Christian community.   People can transcend the cultural and ethnic realities that formed them and become a constructive part of other societies. What happens in the Church should be a model and encouragement for the rest of society.  Immigrants, as they learn local languages and customs, acquire cultural skills, and take part in Church – if they are Christians –  and civic life, contribute to and enrich both.

Third, migration is likewise an occasion for inter-religious dialogue among the great religious traditions to discover their spiritual riches and find new ways of living together and contributing to the peace of the world. Parishes can be special spaces in which such a dialogue can take place.

Fourth, migration is special moment or kairos for making the gospel known, for respectfully and lovingly offering Jesus Christ to those who have not known him.  Migration has been and still is a traditional vehicle for transporting the Word of God to the ends of the earth.  Modern means of travel used by migrants increase these possibilities more than ever before.

3.  Understanding the opportunity

Vatican II uses a suggestive image of the Church that can help us understand migration as a sign of the times: the Church as pilgrim.[6] Without attempting to do a complete theology of this image, we examine those aspects most relevant to our discussion.

Lumen Gentium 14 uses “pilgrim” in the context of the Church as necessary for salvation and the ways people are incorporated into it and related to it. “Pilgrim” means a growing unity, an outreach by the Holy Spirit that draws all to Jesus Christ. Not mentioned in this text is migration, but it is one of the realities that put different peoples and religions in closer proximity to each other than before.

Chapter 7 of Lumen Gentium is explicitly dedicated to the “eschatological nature of the Pilgrim Church.” Its full perfection in heaven is described as the “restoration of all things” (see Acts 3,21) and reestablishment in Christ (see Eph 1,10; Col 1,20; 2 Pt 3,10-13). This already began in Jesus’ life and Paschal Mystery and is continued by the Holy Spirit. The restoration involves something inevitably linked to migration: bringing people back together in Christ, breaking down the walls that divide cultural and religious groups (see Eph 2,14).  This goes so far as the proclamation that even now in Christ there are strangers and aliens no longer (see Eph 2,19).

The present pilgrim reality, however, is not an easy one: It is a time of exile from the Lord (see 2 Cor 5,6) and of “groaning” (see Rom 8,23) as well as a time for being strong in faith as we look forward to the blessed hope of the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The Pilgrim people expresses and realizes its union with all who live and have died in Christ in the liturgy, particularly the Eucharist. There “all those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and gathered together into one Church, with one song of praise magnify the one and triune God.”[7]

The pilgrim image thus interprets migration as a reality that, in the final analysis, is providential in bringing people into greater physical proximity. The eschatological hymn of all tribes and nations is already being sung by many cultures and peoples being gathered together by migration. The “four corners” of the earth come together in many places. The restoration of the world as a whole begins, in a certain way, in the interaction, reconciliation, and praise of God in the particular churches of the world that are theologically and factually pilgrims.

As the idea of pilgrimage implies, it is a rough and incomplete reality, with suffering and setbacks as pilgrims move towards their goal. The company of those who have already reached it spurs us on. The Pilgrim Church is thus also catholic, first of all, in its basic sense of kat’holon or “according to the whole,” embracing the whole, or the universal character of the People of God.  It means the Catholic Church “ceaselessly and efficaciously seeks for the return of all humanity and all its goods under Christ the head in the unity of his Spirit”.[8]  Catholicity is about diversity in the Church in so far as it is ordered to unity in Christ.  Migration offers the “local Church the occasion to verify their catholicity.”[9] It is manifest not only in receiving people of different geographic and ethnic origins but especially in realizing communion with them.  “Cultural pluralism in the Church does not establish a situation that is to be tolerated as it is transitory but is a structural dimension of the Church. The unity of the Church does not come from a common origin or language, but from the Spirit of Pentecost.”[10]  Furthermore “Catholicity is not only expressed in the fraternal communion of the baptized, but also in the hospitality extended to the stranger, whatever his religious belief, in the rejection of all racial exclusion or discrimination, in the recognition of the personal dignity of every man and women and, consequently, in the commitment to furthering their inalienable rights.”[11]

“Pilgrim Church” seems a particularly apt way for speaking about a theology of migration.  It is a reminder of an essential trait of the People of God, that of really having no fixed dwelling place on earth, of being on pilgrimage towards the Kingdom. Under this image migration and human mobility are almost “sacramental” phenomena, for they effectively put us into touch with an essential dimension of the Church.

That is the context in which I would like to reflect further on the four elements I mentioned above. The first two refer to interculturality in the Church, and the third and fourth refer to specific elements of mission that are part and parcel of the intercultural Pilgrim Church.

a.  A Pilgrim, Catholic, and Intercultural Church

The work of the Spirit in the Pilgrim Church is intercultural. In the physical closeness of different cultures that results from migration, the Holy Spirit draws them together, making diversity of its members not a threat or a problem but an enrichment and strength. Belonging to the People of God, as expressed concretely in local Churches, does not depend on nationality, ethnicity,  language, or skin color but on professing faith in Jesus Christ and being baptized into his name and Body.  In this, nothing authentically human in cultures in lost.  Regarding “the ability, riches and customs in which the genius of each people expresses itself  [the Church] . . . purifies, strengthens, elevates and ennobles them”[12]

This purifying aspect of Church ministry points to another aspect of interculturality: It requires conversion, metanoia, that allows different migrant cultures to live with one another and interact in an intercultural dialogue. Considered in reference to migration, conversion means a break with whatever limits the catholicity of the Body of Christ. Deeper communion with Jesus brings out the best in one’s cultural heritage. Faith, conversion, and catholicity are in continually development as long as the Pilgrim Church carries forward the one People of God, composed of many cultures, on its way towards the fulness of the Kingdom of God.

All this means that cultural variety brought by migration is, in principle, an enrichment for the Church.  In a community that constantly turns to Jesus, with its horizons being continually broadened by the Holy Spirit, a new creation is happening. That community, as experienced concretely at a local level, may have dozens of nationalities. In it there may be Scots, Ghanaians, Peruvians, Chinese, and so on, individuals and groups. The best of their cultural traits emerges in relation to their conversion to Jesus Christ. The cultures carried by individuals and groups remain, but the tendency present in every culture to turn in on itself – something negative, sinful, unredeemed – changes. That is the situation in which we can discover the best meaning of interculturality.[13] In the redeemed community the relation among individuals and groups of different cultures changes from hostile competition and dominance (by the biggest and the richest)[14] to dialogue, appreciation of the other, and contribution to building up a “civilization of love.”

Interculturality is thus not about various cultural groups of migrants living in proximity to one another, perhaps even unwillingly juxtaposed.  It is about  interaction at a social and ecclesial level that happens in the Church that is always called to conversion, the community where the victory of Christ’s redemption is experienced,  albeit imperfectly until the end of its pilgrimage.  Life in Christ makes true interculturality possible. This is very different from the unredeemed cultural competition found today on every continent, where dominant cultures eliminate and homogenize others. In the Church no person or culture is a stranger. In the redeemed community everyone can remain him/herself, explain his or her cultural heritage to others -- by word and deed -- and gratefully receive from others.

This helps us understand many of the statements in Migration Day Messages regarding the right of migrants to their cultural heritage and the obligation for this not only to be respected but also promoted.  “Integration” in the world of migration happens in a process of dialogue, mutual give and take, and sharing of gifts by people of different cultures, in whom the redeeming grace of Christ is working. It does not matter whether they immediately understand each other’s languages or customs. The new creation is happening in respectful inter-action and where Christ’s love is expressed concretely and consistently.

Migration in this sense is an enrichment of the People of God and of the different cultural groups within it as is verified by concrete experience, at least in some places. This allows us to understand why we have pastoral letters and statements on migration with titles like “All Come Bearing Gifts” and “Nous avons besoin de vous.”[15]

What is said in the Church also finds an expression, mutatis mutandis, in the world of international politics. The recently concluded Helsinki Meeting of the European Ministers Responsible for Migration contains positive statements about the contribution of migrant populations to Europe.[16]  IOM’s 50th celebrations a year ago reflected similar convictions in the context of “controlled migration.” The interculturality of the Christian community is an indispensable motor for the rest of society in making the experience of migration more than just juxtaposition of cultural groups or tolerance among them but a growing dynamic exchange of gifts, which also contributes to avoiding a hostile clash of cultures and civilizations.

Understanding the contribution of migrants cultures: a further reflection

Migrant believers bring with them their own treasures, for they are, like all believers, God’s handiwork in Jesus Christ (see Eph 2,10). The heart of each person preserves unique experiences, some individual and others common to the cultural group to which he or she belongs. These combine with family life, education, environment, nutrition, natural endowments, acquired skills, sinfulness and fidelity to Christ, success and setbacks in struggles of life to form personality. To this we also need to add one’s experience of migration, the decision to leave home, the usually difficult events of travel and entry into another society, the often enduring feeling of uprootedness, and the crisis of faith that frequently comes with it.

All this tells us something about how migrants bring their gifts to new cultures. In the early stages of a migrant’s experience, these treasures are, more than ever, in earthen jars. Though often fragile, they are challenged to express themselves and develop in an environment where usual cultural and human supports are missing and where the person is called on to express him-/herself in ways not earlier foreseen, such as in learning a new language, making acquaintances in a strange environment, enduring long and difficult working conditions to survive and provide for self and family. This outreach to new expressions of one’s being often makes the “pilgrim way” a Way of the Cross. This furthermore forms personality as it faces and overcomes resistance posed by external factors, many outside one’s control, and by one’s own inner makeup, including the experience of sin.

It is this suffered experience that becomes part of the contribution of individuals and groups to the enrichment of the Christian community. Admittedly some migrants pass through their more difficult first years abroad, become more established and stable, and bring their sensitivities and values into their new society for its benefit. But their earlier experiences are imprinted on them and pass into the host society as they become more part of it.

There are also many migrants who do not get beyond the hardships of the first years, especially short-term laborers as well as refugees and displaced people. They remain in a continual state of movement and insecurity. Their contribution is not in “success,” defined in “worldly” terms, but in their own Way of the Cross, lived out of their own faith that rose a particular cultural background, that “enriches” the People of God.

In a theological and spiritual sense, the “enrichment” other cultures offer to the People of God does not necessarily consist only in what is suggested by symbols like photos of smiling children from all the world playing or dancing together.  The experience of the Cross, with its falls and struggles and fidelity to the will of the Father, is inseparably part of the enrichment.  Struggles in the name of the Lord can purify and strengthen the culture that constitutes each migrant. The victories of Christ’s grace – the little ones of everyday that anticipate the final one – in the migrant’s daily Way of the Cross go into forming the dense and complex “fabric” of the People of God.  This is part of the “groaning” of the Pilgrim People.

All of this also contains a message for the more “stable” members of the People of God, living in more fixed places, who can hardly ignore this reality. They are called to be like Simon of Cyrene, to help their brothers and sisters carry their crosses. Simon is a symbol of what we mean by solidarity, which becomes one of the many expressions of interculturality and an enrichment of the People of God. It is carrying another’s cross and the experiencing Christ’s grace in overcoming inertia and resistance to meeting Christ himself in the stranger.  That growth in openness to the other, and therefore openness to God, is likewise part of the “enrichment” of the “redeemed culture” of the People of God. This cultural reality is spiritual, where our finite being meets Being in all its goodness, truth and beauty, revealed in Christ.  That is the meeting that opens one up to other finite human expressions of being in other cultures.

b.  The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature

Though there is much more to be said about Catholic teaching on migration, these points reflect a certain optimism, which springs from scrutinizing migration in the light of faith. To further understand this perception of migration, I would like to refer to a text of Vatican II: “The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father.”[17] 

The very nature of interculturality is what helps us understand mission in the context of the Pilgrim Church. Cultures with Christian roots have an outreach towards one another and an openness to one another to the degree that they are converted to Christ. That is a particular expression of the catholicity whether of individuals or groups, whether they are migrants or residents of a country receiving foreigners.  That outreach can take on forms that pass beyond the visible borders of the People of God, as for example, in the different levels of inter-religious dialogue, in first proclamation, or in the complex of activities of evangelization.  The choice of outreach “will depend on the circumstances and also on [the] . . . degree of preparation”[18] and a process of discernment of those involved.  Most likely, however, it will begin with some form of dialogue.


The Holy Spirit leads Christians to people of other cultures and religions, not for the sake of “imposing faith” but in the spirit of discovering how God “does not fail to make himself present in many ways, not only to individuals but also to entire peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their religions are the main and essential expression.”[19] The specific importance of this dialogue in situations of migration was brought out in the Holy Father’s Message for the Day of Migrants and Refugees for 2002, entitled “Migration and Inter-Religious Dialogue.”

The events of September 11th, 2001 have made this Message more important than ever expected.  Migration invites Christians to reflect on their response to the challenges that arise as migrants and receiving communities look for ways of living together peacefully and respectfully  and overcoming prejudice. The most significant parts of the process, however, happen with little fanfare. Rather "What are needed are . . . everyday gestures, done with simplicity and constancy, that are capable of producing an authentic change in interpersonal relationships".

Change in interpersonal relationships is an aspect of conversion on the part of all involved in dialogue, something not easy.  It requires patience and perseverence, reciprocal acceptance of differences and respect for what people freely decide according to their conscience. The attitude of not covering over differences but recognizing them and living with them in the hope of eventually finding ways through them is likewise part of the process of intercultural living.

Dialogue is likewise needed in places where Christian migrants and refugees are a minority. This includes the issue of reciprocity in cultural and religious exchanges, whose lack makes both the process of inter-religious and intercultural dialogue incomplete. Thus the Message 2002 recalls some Christian immigrants who in the countries that receive them “unfortunately do not always enjoy a true freedom of religion and conscience”. Neither the dialogue among religions nor among cultures can exist where profound convictions of conscience cannot be expressed, according to the vision of Dignitatis Humanis.

Thus the Message also wants to recommend dialogue “wherein the centrality of the person will never be denied.” This point touches the inviolability of conscience as the basis of religious freedom and the decision of faith. Such respect is also “the only way to nourish the hope for warding off the dread spectre of those wars of religion which have so often bloodied human history’ and which have often forced many people to abandon their own countries. It is urgent to work so that the name of the one and only God may become what it is, ever more a name of peace and a summons to peace”.

The Message suggests the parish as a space where such dialogue can take place. Parish here needs to be read in its ancient sense:  a house where a guest feels at ease.[20] It is where “a true pedagogy of meeting with people of various religious convictions and cultures can be realized . . . a training ground of hospitality, a place where an exchange of experiences and gifts takes place” that fosters peaceful living together of all who are open to the true and the good.


Interreligious dialogue “remains oriented towards proclamation” and “cannot simply replace proclamation.”[21] Announcing the gospel and evangelizing activities are constitutive of the People of God. Good news is not to be kept under a basket. The means to be used require discernment, but the difficulty of the task cannot discourage us from it. That is not, of course, an invitation to proselytism or backtracking on what was said above about inter-religious dialogue. There are ways of respectfully and lovingly sharing the “wonderful works of the Lord” in one’s own community and personal life and letting the Spirit of the Lord do the rest.

There is also an evolving inter-cultural approach to evangelization, in which migrants are not only “objects” of evangelization but are themselves evangelizers. Christian migrants, who enter lands where Christians are a minority and lack influence, have the graced moment to develop the art of presenting the gospel in ways that are respectful and corrective of some current or past approaches. One such criticism concerns evangelizing from a base of power, whether political, economic or technological, or from a base of “cultural arrogance.” Evangelizing from the posture of being a migrant is not likely to involve “power tactics.” He or she has to develop another approach, where more confidence in placed in the power of God’s Word than in human supports of evangelizing efforts.[22]

The earliest case of that kind of evangelizing recorded in the New Testament happened after the death of Stephen: “Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.  Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them” (Acts 8,4-5). This is describing “forced migrants” or “internally displaced people” who did not lose courage or faith. If their situation resembled anything like today’s displaced people, they had little to fall on but the Word of God that they felt almost compelled to share with anyone who would listen. The mission history of Togo or Korea might be relevant to this point as they can supply us with models on how lay people, migrating back to their homelands, brought the gospel with them into cultural-religious situations that were certainly not favorable to a “foreign” religion.[23]

The Holy Father’s Message for the Day of Migrants and Refugees for 1997 is dedicated to the evangelizing mission of the Church as it receives migrants and refugees. I would like to present its main points here. It is intended to make us all reflect on the activities we perform as Church in the service of migrants. Charitable and humanitarian activities, advocacy, and the Church structures to support these efforts are important if not indispensable and obligatory. At the same we need to be careful about neglecting the missionary-dialogical aspect of this already notable presence. This is not a question of taking advantage of people in a moment of weakness and distress but finding those opportunities for sharing with others the reasons behind our activities, “accounting for the hope” that is in us (see 1 Pet 3,15).

After noting the never before experienced religious plurality in traditionally Christian countries brought by recent migration, the Message proposes these points for our calm and prayerful reflection:

1) The Church is called not only to solidarity with migrants and refugees of other religions but also to bring the gospel among them. Helping migrants “must not hinder the proclamation of the ultimate realities on which Christian hope is founded. To evangelize is to account to everyone for the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Pt 3,15)” (n. 3).

2) “Love and service to the poor must not lead to underestimating the need for faith.”  Furthermore Church activities for migrants cannot be limited “merely to organizing structures of hospi­tality and solidarity. . . .  At the end of our life we will be judged on love, on the acts of charity we have done to the ‘least’ of our brothers and sisters (cf. Mt 25,31-45), but also on the courage and fidelity with which we have witnessed to Christ” (n 3).  “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven;  but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven” (Mt 10,32-33).

3) Thus pastors, even when overwhelmed by all kinds of practical problems, should not forget migrants have a need of God. The mission of the Church is to offer “a presence which .... makes the Word of God resound .... and guides them to the meeting with the risen Christ. This is the Church's missionary path: to go to meet women and men of every race, tongue and nation with friendship and love, sharing their conditions in an evangelical spirit, to break the bread of truth and charity for them” (n 4).

4) Continuing Christ’s mission of gathering the scattered children of God into one (see Jn 12,32), “the Church is called to establish an intense dialogue with humanity, not only to transmit authentic values to them, but above all to reveal Christ's mystery, because only in him does the person reach his truest dimension” (n 5).

Here we are touching questions of the identity of the Christian community as it receives people like migrants, refugees, foreign students, and other people on the move. There can be no doubt of our efforts to welcome Christ in them. That happens in local Churches worldwide on six continents. Where larger humanitarian organizations only arrive late and leave early, the presence of the Church in the service of people on the move was there before and continues after. That is verified in countless cases, not as cause for boasting but of giving thanks to God.

We do, however, need to ask what is special about our welcome. Are we simply one of many NGOs trying to serve suffering humanity? Our identity lies in two elements: (1) explicit belief in Jesus Christ in communion with the Church and its pastors as source of love in service of migrants and (2) the desire to respectfully share that conviction. In fact evangelizing activities, when carried out with discernment and in conformity with the best of Catholic tradition, can distance Church-based activities from accusations of dealing with people using “heavy-handed western methods.” Aid, structures for assistance, and advocacy necessarily involve politics and finances. They can also unduly influence people’s lives and create dependencies. Evangelizing challenges the evangelizers themselves to examine the activities they and their partners are engaged in and apply to themselves the change of heart the gospel calls for as they attempt to present the gospel. If we do not act in an evangelizing spirit, our religion – to quote Dorthy Day, speaking in a context of aid and evangelization – becomes “an opiate, for ourselves alone, for our comfort or for our individual safety or indifferent custom . . . .  And if we lose the vision [of evangelizing], we become merely philanthropists, doling out palliatives.”[24] “If we do not keep indoctrinating, we lose the vision.  And if we lose the vision, we become merely philanthropists, doling out palliatives.” Those are very strong words, coming from one of the most impressive persons of the last century known for her decades of dedication to the poor, including migrants.

4. Conclusion

This paper has been an attempt to take part in the Church’s task of scrutinizing and interpreting a sign of the times, migration. It should be clear that migration is more than a humanitarian and legal problem; it is a dimension of the Pilgrim Church itself. Historically migration contributes to salvation conceived as the great movement of all peoples, cultures, and languages being drawn into unity with Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit until their pilgrimage reaches its goal and place of rest.

This is a vision of migration that makes it a kairos for the community of those who believe in Jesus Christ. It requires them to turn more deeply to the Gospel and overcome the limits of individual cultures and mentalities in the formation of the new and renewed People of God.  Likewise it is also a moment when interaction of different cultures can open the door to appreciating how God has also worked in other religions servatis servandis and how these can contribute to the peace and betterment of the world. Finally it is also a moment when, by witness and word, the Good News of Jesus Christ can be shared with those who do not know Him.

All this has implications for our pastoral and missionary-dialogical activities. Our preaching, for example, should not let any community get too “settled” or feel too “stable.”  Even territorial parishes need to remember they are essentially pilgrims. Our preaching can contribute to this awareness raising as it scrutinizes and interprets – always in communion with the Local and Universal Church – a phenomenon that is daily in our newspapers, TV, and informal discussions. One goal of this is, of course, forming consciences for responsible political action, e.g., in voting.

The interculturality implied in all this is not easy.  Let us not delude ourselves here.  It can be a Way of the Cross to pass over cultural borders and construct bridges that finally build up the Body of Christ.  For that reason the pastoral care of migrants and of people on the move in general needs to be part of formation programs for clergy, religious, lay movements, and parish groups. What I have been talking about here has to be absorbed and enter into our way of thinking and even instinctive reactions. That requires non-stop conversion: intellectual, religious, and moral. Neglecting the attention due to such an evident sign of the times is, if I may borrow from a biblical image, to construct a house on foundations filled with a lot of sand.

Migration will not go away.  In the end, it needs to be gratefully accepted as a gift of God that can bring out the best in believing communities and form them in the multi-faceted cultural richness of all who seek to follow Christ.

* Conference held at the Missionary Institute London  for the annual  Mission Day Lecture, 13 November 2002


[1]  Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n. 6. Henceforthe GS..  

[2].  Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Secretariat, Replacement Migration: Is it a Solution to Declaining and Ageing Populations (ESA/P/WP.160, 21 March 2000), pp. 1-2.  (Available at

[3].  See also U.S. Catholic Bishops, Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity (Washington DC, U.S. Catholic Conference, 2000), p. 8.

[4].  See Ruth Smithies, “Entertaining Angels in Oceania “ in People on the Move, n. 84 (Dec. 2000), note 41:  “It has been calculated that in the early nineties remittances were over US$70 billion annually and over $31 billion from First to Third World countries. This figure is the equivalent to two‑thirds of all official development aid”

[5].  For this paper the meaning of culture is the description in GS 53.

[6].  Second Vatican Council, Costitution on hte Church, nn 14, 48-51. Henceforth LG.

[7].  LG 50  

[8].  LG 13  

[9].  Message of the Holy Father for the World Day for Migrants and Refugees1987, 3. Henceforth, Message.  

[10].  Ibid.  

[11].  Message 1999, 6  

[12].  LG 13  

[13].  For the notion of interculturality I am indebted here and throughout this paper to Josef Ratzinger, “Christ, Faith, and the Challenge of Cultures” L’Osservatore Romano, English Version (n. 17, 26 April 1995), pp. 5-8.  

[14]. See Pope John Paul II, Message for the World Day of Peace 2001, n. 8.  

[15]. See Committee on Migration, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, “From Newcomers to Citizens: All Come Bearing Gifts” (September 1999), available at .  See also Message de la Commission Episcopale des Migrations aux immigrés qui sont en France, “Nous avons besoin de vous” 20 May 1993.  

[16].  See 7th Confereence of European Ministers Responsible for Migration, the Final Declaration (Helsinki, 17 September2002)n. 16 , available at Social_Cohesion/Migration/Ministerial_Conferences.  

[17].  Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, n. 2.  

[18].Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, “Instruction on the Proclamation of the Gospel and Interreligious Dialogue, Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflections and Orientations” (19 May 1991), 82: AAS 84 (1992), 444.

[19]. John Paul II, Redemptoris missio, 55.  

[20]. The word parish is derived from the Greek paroikos, (a combination of para- and ôikos), meaning a neighbor or sojourner.  In its usage it means etymologically “a house where the guest feels at ease, welcomes all and discriminates against none, for no one there is an outsider. . . . The importance of the parish in welcoming the stranger, in integrating baptized persons from different cultures and in dialoguing with believers of other religions stems from the mission of every parish community and its significance within society. This is not an optional, supplementary role for the parish community, but a duty inherent in its task as an institution” (Message 1999, 6).

[21].  “Instruction on the Proclamation of the Gospel and Interreligious Dialogue, Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflections and Orientations” n. 82; John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 56. 

[22].  See Pope Paul VI’s Evangelium nuntiandi n. 21 regarding the kind of evangelizing questions that migrants can inspire.  

[23].  For Togo see Karl Müller, Geschichte der katholischen Kirche in Togo (Kaldenkirchen, Steyler Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1958) 24-25.  For Korea, see C.A. Herbert, “Korea”, New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1966) 8, 254-255.  

[24].  Dorothy Day, "Aims and Purposes", The Catholic Worker, February 1940, 7 (available at  The word she uses for evangelization is indoctrination.  Here is the quotation in full: “Together with the Works of Mercy, feeding, clothing and sheltering our brothers, we must indoctrinate. We must ‘give reason for the faith that is in us.’  Otherwise we are scattered members of the Body of Christ, we are not "all members one of another." Otherwise, our religion is an opiate, for ourselves alone, for our comfort or for our individual safety or indifferent custom. “We cannot live alone. We cannot go to Heaven alone. Otherwise, as Péguy said, God will say to us, ‘Where are the others?’ (This is in one sense only as, of course, we believe that we must be what we would have the other fellow be. We must look to ourselves, our own lives first.)”.