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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move 

N° 94,  April 2004

Pastoral Care of Human Mobility in 

The Universities of Europe*


H.E. Archbishop Agostino MARCHETTO

Secretary of the Pontifical Council

for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

I. The Church and the present question of mobility in the world of students

Mobility was born with mankind itself, yet it is also a phenomenon typical of our own times. Indeed, some people affirm that mobility is the “credo” of contemporary man.

It is both cause and effect of our technical and scientific age and should be counted as one of the “profound and rapid changes … spreading by degrees around the whole world” (Gaudium et Spes, 4). This complex phenomenon is amplified by globalization and, in that context, we must immediately emphasise that it is not so much the dimensions and pace of mobility that matter, as the nature of the change it works in man (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 6–8).

The Catholic Church has responded to this “sign of the times” by instituting, at the universal level, a Pontifical Council that, at the wishes of the Holy Father, concerns itself with the various sectors which may be grouped under the common denominator of mobility; in other words with: migrants, refugees, nomads, circus people, pilgrims, tourists, international students, and those who travel by air (civil aviation), by sea (Stella Maris), or by land (road and rail).

Large numbers of international students make up part of the migratory flows from countries in the South of the world to those in the North. For many of them, the aim is not so much to acquire some technical or academic specialisation, but to secure themselves a better future. The flows are a result of the deplorable living conditions in many poor countries and become even more intense thanks to the powerful fascination exercised by rich countries, who often seek out the best international students to ensure optimum levels of scientific and technological excellence in their own centres of higher education. This policy of “headhunting” reinforces the well-known effect of the “brain drain”, leading to the “diaspora” of intellectuals which is one of the causes that perpetuates the monstrous injustice, the gaping abyss, that exists between the North and the South of the world.

We know, and you know, that the lives of these students from poor countries are full of problems. This is true above all for older students who have already completed the first or second stage of their studies; often they are married and arrive in the company of their wives and children or, perhaps, they have to leave their families for the time they are abroad, with all the consequences that such a situation can generate. Such students come, especially, from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

One must also consider the culture shock, the hostility often shown towards foreigners, the administrative difficulties in acquiring a residence permit, and the problems associated with learning a new language, returning to one’s home country or, perhaps, with finding a job etc. All these questions give rise to considerable psychological stress in the students, which can cause or aggravate a loss of self-esteem. Often, matters can end up precipitating into illegality. For all these reasons, there is an urgent necessity to find competent individuals and organisations to welcome and guide international students.

It is in this context that, in my opinion, we in the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples – which concerns itself with universal questions within the Catholic Church – must consider the category of foreign “European” students. These are the students who have joyfully taken up the challenge and adventure offered by European programmes for study within the continent, schemes that offer financial aid to continue or complete the education they began in their countries of origin, also in Europe. We are speaking of the programmes: Erasmus, Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci, etc. The Erasmus programme, for example, has developed rapidly since 1987, with 100,000 candidates in the first year, and has grown from the 12 original nations to the 30 of today.

On this subject, I would like to recall the words of Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission: “Incorporated into the Socrates programme, which is larger, … Erasmus has grown, not only quantitatively but also from the point of view of the quality of the student exchanges. Improvements in language teaching, the adoption of new instruments for recognising the periods of study spent abroad, and greater integration within the host country have, over time, enabled the positive effects of Erasmus to be fully exploited”.

How must the Church respond to such mobility, how must she evangelise and proffer her pastoral care? The words of Pope John Paul II come to enlighten us, as he indicates the goal in these terms: “All apostolic activity in universities must seek to bring young people, teachers, and everyone in the academic world, to a personal encounter with Christ. To this end, a specific service dedicated to pastoral care in universities has shown itself to be very useful, one that aims to animate and co-ordinate the various ecclesial bodies active in this field, from the chaplaincy to the colleges, from parish groups to faculty groups. Indeed the horizon of the evangelisation of culture does not become any narrower within the university campus, it covers the full range of ecclesial activity, and becomes more effective the more it is able to become an integral part of organic pastoral care. (our underlining)

“In this field, it would be desirable for each university to have its own chaplaincy, the heart of university pastoral care. The chaplaincy must be a driving force in formation and in the cultural initiatives specific to evangelisation. Its aim is to cultivate frank and open dialogue with the different sectors of the university, proposing appropriate ways to arrive at a personal encounter with Christ.

“The promotion of important initiatives at the national level would also be useful, such as the Episcopal Conference’s Council for Pastoral Care in Universities, and the University Day with its commitment to prayer, reflection and planning. As has already happened at the European level, it would be desirable to create co-ordination between chaplains on all continents, in collaboration with the pastoral organisations of the Episcopal Conferences, in order to reinforce the synergy of the multiform richness of local initiatives” (Address to the First World Meeting of National Directors of University Pastoral Care, in L’Osservatore Romano, 26 September 1999, p. 6).

II. The pastoral challenge of welcoming international students in Europe

We have seen, then, that in integrated (or organic, or holistic, whatever you call it) pastoral care, a specific area must be reserved for international students, who have need of special attention adapted to their particular situation. By analogy, the same rules apply in this case as in that of the pastoral care of migrants (of whom international students are a category), integrated into territorial pastoral care, not in contradiction to it but having its own specific qualities. Thus, the universal Church, Episcopal Conferences, bishops, priests, deacons and lay Christians – each with their own ministry and all together – must actively participate in welcoming these young international students (we are thinking specifically of Europe), helping them to develop feelings of trust and self-respect and to grow as believers. As Pope Paul VI said: “It is everyone's duty, but especially that of Christians, to work with energy for the establishment of universal brotherhood, the indispensable basis for authentic justice and the condition for enduring peace” (Octogesima Adveniens no. 17).

The ‘buzz’ word is “welcome”, which expresses that brotherhood and which (according to the words of John Paul II) must today become a culture; a culture of welcome and of solidarity. On this matter, the Holy Father explains: “the stakes in this process of welcome and assistance to international students are very high, not only is their human and professional maturity at issue, but also the credibility of the oldest Churches in the eyes of the young Churches in developing countries” (Insegnamenti, XIX, 2, 1996, p. 365).

Our first pastoral act will, then, be that of meeting and welcoming these young people, being for them authentic and joyful witnesses of the Good News of Jesus Christ. In this world of violence and terrorism on the one hand, and economic struggle and merciless competition on the other, we must bring them to understand, through our actions and words, that a third way is possible, the way of peace, of forgiveness and of reconciliation as proclaimed by the Gospel, experienced by Jesus’ first disciples and authenticated by the Church’s Magisterium.

After the personal encounter with the students (which is always so fundamental) come our efforts to influence structures in order to give a human, cultural and civilised face to this Europe of ours which is often seen as an abstract entity, a cold and soulless organization with chiefly economic ends. Of course, we must give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and insist that the Church does not practice party politics; but we must have the honesty and courage to affirm and clearly propose the values of European Christian humanism based on the profoundly human gospel message.

This has given rise to recent efforts to ensure that the Christian roots of the continent be recognised in the European Constitution, which is being discussed over these weeks (see my speech at the Gorizia section of the University of Trieste: “The European Constitution and Christianity”, published in Rivista della diocesi di Vicenza, no. 8, October 2003). It is something of which the Pope and all of us are firmly convinced. We also feel that universities must be a driving force, as they were in the past, on this journey towards the true values of the Europe of the future. As Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi said recently, speaking at Milan’s “Sacred Heart” Catholic University: “It is only right that we should ask for the Christian roots of Europe to be recognised. Yet these roots must, above all, be rediscovered and revived in the search for truth, a truth which must be painstakingly hunted down and conquered, but also courageously defended and spread in the face of many risks and of attempts to hide, exploit, misrepresent and falsify it. Young people are the true bedrock of the evangelising Church, the Church which is an expert of humanity for a more humane and united society. … We are an integral part of the Catholic Church’s cultural project” (Avvenire, 6th November 2003).

There exists, then, a Europe of knowledge that is not just technological and practical in which the universities play, and must continue to play, a primary role. On this matter, let us not forget the Socratic ideal contained in the recommendation to “know thyself”, and let us not forget either the message of evangelical love which is founded in the supreme and intangible dignity of each human being.

 Perhaps at this point I may present you with a further consideration, a “patriotic”, one, but in the good sense of the word. Let me explain. It is very important that international students be aware of the responsibility they have towards their own countries. Indeed, they hold the key to development in their hands, and they must not seek to avoid that responsibility. In other words, they must not deprive their own nations – I am referring to poor countries – of the skills they have learned abroad as doctors, engineers and agronomists, experts in various areas of knowledge and of social coexistence. Perhaps a similar discussion could be started in Europe, in the European Union. As Christians, students who come from the 3rd or 4th world cannot but feel a commitment to make an evangelical choice of service to the poor, thus becoming, in their respective countries of origin, living stones of the communities that generated them to a civilised life of faith. In this sense, the students will diligently attend to their cultural enhancement and spiritual formation while in the host countries, in order to become workers for peace and messengers for a more united, reconciled and freer world once they return to their home countries.

I have spoken of cultural enhancement with a view to a profession or to spiritual formation and these two dimensions are beautifully brought together in a document on this subject, from which I quote: “The intensified network of cultural exchanges at an international level has notably increased the numbers of young people, especially from developing countries, who seek cultural enhancement abroad. The solitude resulting from expatriation, the human and Christian role that awaits them on their return to their own countries after completing their studies, and their vulnerability, are all elements that condition the special nature of pastoral activity in their support Indeed they, more than other students, are subject to differing demands and pressures. They run a greater risk of falling victim to various ideological currents. Only a form of pastoral care that takes such elements into account will be able to respond to the spiritual requirements of these young people, the qualification of whom as foreigners must not be underestimated” (Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migration and Tourism, Chiesa e Mobilità Umana, 1978, no. 6, p. 68). Mutatis mutandis, this also applies to foreign European students.

Our pastoral activity must, then, be solid and effective, “creating fresh opportunities for contacts and cultural exchanges, and calling the Church to hospitality, dialogue, assistance and, in a word, fraternity” (Redemptoris Missio, 37b) as well as to the mission, which is always universal, even if what we are talking about here is welcome and the local Church.

Thus, we here also want to start again from Christ, in keeping with John Paul II’s invitation of Novo Millennio Ineunte, an exhortation that served as theme for the Fifth World Congress for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, which took place in Rome recently. The Congress proposed ideas and actions in response to the problems of the world of migration, a world for which we undertake the mission of new evangelisation. And among the migrants – a special category but migrants nonetheless – are international students!

We are aware that for them too, “it is not … a matter of inventing a ‘new programme’. The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, no. 29). So says the Pope.

To summarise what we have said up to now: we must adopt a pastoral attitude of welcome towards international students, an attitude facilitating a meaningful period of residence for them, and temporary integration in student centres with, as a general rule, the goal of their returning to the countries from which they came. This, I repeat, specifically for those who come from poor countries.

III. Some pastoral guidelines

Though difficulties are many and resources scarce, pastoral work with international students is already being undertaken, thanks be to God, especially in Europe. Of course, such efforts must be increased, with awareness on everyone’s part that these students have specific and urgent needs. This should lead to a growth in the number of pastoral operatives involved in this field and to an increase in resources from Episcopal Conferences, local bishops, religious institutions and the various ecclesial and social bodies that are in a position to help in this apostolate. It is necessary to invest – please excuse the verb, but I use it deliberately – in this form of pastoral care, which affects the field of culture, of universities, and of migration. Let me add that investment must lead to concrete action at various levels.

I believe there is a need for serious formation for chaplains and, more specifically, for lay pastoral operatives (because priestly and religious vocations are, in general, scarce in Europe today), possibly with a certification of their capacity and level of preparation, and perhaps with some form of missionary mandate. Moreover, it is important to increase economic support in order to reach new and broader groups of people.

The current situation – we are thinking, for example, of terrorism – brings with it various problems of admission to many countries, with negative influences on the rights of international students. Pastoral activity must also take these contemporary problems into account.

In many countries, the care of international students is part of the normal apostolic work of the university or campus chaplain, yet it is clear that there is little activity aimed specifically at them. In other words, few activities bear in mind the fact that they are a category of migrants, and therefore in need of a specific form of pastoral care. The aim of such activities as do exist is fundamentally – and sometimes only – the religious and sociological inculturation of these students into the host country.

At this point I would like to make some recommendations, a sort of Decalogue to broaden perspectives:

While maintaining a realistic approach and despite the various problems, pastoral commitment to international students must always take place in an optimistic and positive atmosphere. The apostolic enthusiasm of the chaplain or pastoral care worker is fundamental in this field, accompanied, of course, by the human and Christian contribution of the participants.

Through their delegates, Episcopal Conferences must support and encourage the university apostolate, especially as regards international students, with a particularly fruitful and indispensable form of pastoral care within the context of their ordinary pastoral activities.

We must concern ourselves with the possibility of co-operation between pastors in the countries of origin and in the host countries of international students.

Our basic pastoral care for international students must merge liturgy, diakonia and koinonia in order to create an intercultural family atmosphere for them, one in which they do not so much seek the freedom to, as the freedom for… Such apostolic activity must be presented in harmony with the local Church, actively participating in her mission of new evangelisation.

We must move towards intercultural coexistence among students, creating the atmosphere of a second family within their residences, if that is where they live. There, they must find true friendship (not limited to people of their own nationality) and the participation of everyone in order for their houses to run as they should. In this way, segregation and discrimination will be avoided, creating true and just integration.

Support international student organisations (for example, S.E.C.I.S. – Service of European Churches for International Students – which involves organisations active in this field, from eleven European countries).

Create projects of interest to those who study abroad. We will mention a number that already exist, in order to encourage the necessary spiritual emulation: Galleria interculturale permanente di Roma, Globalizzazione e sviluppo locale, Scuola di politica internazionale e sviluppo (SPICES), and Percorsi di lettura della globalizzazione; all “projects”, if we may so call them, organised here in Rome by the Centro Culturale Giovanni XXIII and by the Ufficio Centrale per gli Studenti Esteri in Italia (U.C.S.E.I.). Other similar initiatives exist in Europe, including those of the above-mentioned S.E.C.I.S.

Charity and justice must also always be present, and so we must not fail to consider giving economic support to students in difficulty (to pay fees, books, dissertations, etc.), seeking, to this end, contributions from various institutions, including religious institutions active in this area.

Regional conventions must be organised, in preparation for national or international conventions. Study seminars on subjects of interest may also prove useful, to take place in welcome centres for international students or other locations. Communication must be intensified between foreign students of different nationalities or with institutions and other organisations (embassies, cultural institutes, NGOs, etc.).

Think of ways to intervene in the Law on Co-operation in Europe so that international students receive recognition as strategic players in the development of their countries of origin, with all the consequences this would bring in terms of human and cultural formation, seriousness of study, aid, faith in the idea of co-operation, and so on.

In closing, I would like to add one further consideration concerning the general context in which this flow of international students takes place, thus returning to my starting point. In these young people’s countries of origin, vast movements of people have come into being; driven by privation and subhuman living conditions, they follow the roads of migration in search of a job to enable them to live and maintain a family.

This situation requires, indeed demands, policies that act on the causes behind migration in the countries of origin of international students. It is, in fact, people’s poverty that lies at the roots of the problem and, thanks to their professional skills, students who have completed their studies abroad can and must provide the force necessary to pull their countries out of the shoals of underdevelopment. This would also give credibility to the older Churches in the eyes of the young Churches of developing countries. Investing in the education of international students is, then, a form of co-operation with poorer nations that must be given special attention, while highlighting, nonetheless, students’ responsibility to return to their countries of origin – because the reason behind their study grants, apart from that of helping people who study a profession abroad, is precisely that of helping the developing countries from whence they come.

I say this as encouragement and to raise everyone’s level of awareness, even though I know what it means, for example, to live in Africa today (I am speaking in general terms), having spent twenty years of my life there. Of course, in order to return a great sense of solidarity is necessary, one that has already begun to develop in one’s own country of origin. Christian and ecclesial factors will also have a certain importance in supplementing the intention to return, and we must know how to maintain or create such factors in international students during the period they spend outside their home countries. This will come about, I repeat, thanks to a form of pastoral care that is and must remain specific, analogous to and inspired by the Church’s commitment to migrants. The Church, the Council and the new Codes of Canon Law teach, exhort and ask just this. Thank you!