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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move 

N° 94,  April 2004, pp. 31-34


Cardinal Stephen Fumio HAMAO

President of the Pontifical Council for the 

Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

Today the greatest problems we must face have a global dimension. For example, no single Nation, however powerful, can guarantee peace in the world. Alone, no one can save the balance of the ecosystem or prevent the irresponsible exploitation of natural resources. This is also true in the case of the complex phenomenon of migration, and refugees. All of us can, however, and indeed must make a specific contribution, especially to improving relations between peoples and cultures.

In his Message for the World Day of Peace 2001, John Paul II said on this topic: “At the dawn of a new millennium, there is growing hope that relationships between people will be increasingly inspired by the ideal of a truly universal brotherhood. Unless this ideal is shared, there will be no way to ensure a stable peace”. The Holy Father continued, declaring that this “is called for, as never before, by the process of globalization which is leading to a progressive unification of the economy, culture and society” (Message for World Day of Peace 2001, n. 1).

In a more and more globalized world, the Pope pointed to phenomenon of migration as a factor that concerns peace in the world and the encounter of cultures in these terms: “No less dangerous for the future of peace would be the inability to confront intelligently the problems posed by a new social configuration resulting in many countries from accelerated migration and the unprecedented situation of people of different cultures and civilizations living side by side” (ibid., n. 2).

Forced human displacement

The Holy Father returns to this urgent question in his Message for World Migration Day 2004, which we are present­ing today. Its theme is “Migration with a view to peace”. This theme draws pub­lic attention to the phenomenon of forced human displacement, focusing on certain problematic aspects “of, great timeliness due to war and violence, ter­rorism and oppression, discrimination and injustice which, unfortunately, are, always featured in the daily news”. The Pope goes on to say in his Message: “The mass media broadcast to, homes images of suffering, violence and armed conflict. These are tragedies that sweep over countries and continents, and it is often the poorest areas that are the hardest hit” (n. 1; [ORE], 31 December 2003, p. 3).

Against this almost apocalyptic background, John Paul II asks himself and us: “How can the phenomenon of migration build peace among people?” (n. 1). In answering this question, the Holy Father reaffirms first of all the need to start with a culture of peace, encouraging gestures and efforts for forgiveness and reconciliation. In fact, “here can be no true peace without justice and respect for human rights” (n. 2). Next, turning his attention to migrants and refugees, the Pope lists certain practical conditions for building peace. These are, to start with, the right not to emigrate, thanks in particular to a more equitable trade and international cooperation that can guarantee to satisfy people's fundamental needs in their countries of origin. There is additionally the right to emigrate, also regulated by International Accords - that can always be improved upon - and that respect the dignity of individuals and of their families.

‘No’ to human trafficking

Then, facing the dramatic scenes - ever more frequently before our eyes thanks to the work of the mass media - that feature sad, lonely and despairing men, women and children, the Pope openly condemns the “trafficking practised by unscrupulous exploiters who abandon at sea, on precarious crafts, people desperately seeking a more certain future” (n. 4).

However, also against this profoundly tragic background, “the world of immigrants”, John Paul II says, “can make a valid contribution to the consolidation of peace”, as long as immigrants are treated with the respect due to the dignity of each person, fostering “the culture of acceptance and the culture of peace”, sustained by sincere dialogue and true solidarity; so as to facilitate the gradual integration of immigrants and refugees into the host society with respect for the cultural identity of the immigrants themselves as well as of the local population. In other words, one must gradually build up reciprocal tolerance, for “when ‘diversities’ converge and are integrated they start a ‘friendly coexistence of differences’. Values are rediscovered that are common to every culture, which unite rather than divide” (n. 5).

Role of Ecclesial Communities

The Papal Message ends with an appeal to every “Ecclesial Community, made up of migrants and refugees and those who receive them”, to “untiringly engage in the construction of peace” (n. 6) without ever being discouraged by injustice, difficulty or hardship.­          

The goal of reconciliation and peace to which the Message refers first demands a change in the mindset of individuals and of communities. This will enable us to rediscover on the one hand the significance of a society capable of sharing, with solidarity and with the involvement of all, in a common project of global growth from which no one is excluded; and on the other, the fundamental role of individuals, even if they are unfortunate as immigrants usually are, who, helped to understand and to make the most of their “human capital”, invest it in a logic of individual responsibility and once again, of the common good.

The Message mentions a very important point concerning “International Agreements” that already exist “to protect would‑be emigrants” (n. 3). The increasing polarization between abundance and poverty both on the domestic and international scale, between those who enjoy many opportunities and those such as immigrants who are increasingly marginalized, brings up the inevitable connection between peace and justice. Indeed, the Holy Father stresses the “very close connection between justice and peace” (n. 2), pointing out, especially to lay people, a vast field of action: in fact, they are called, in institutions and through their participation in democratic processes, to defend and develop principles and values, not in the abstract but by regularly and competently evaluating their effect on the standard of living of the weakest categories, on legislation, of services to the person that do not always function (health care, schools, social assistance) and on economic and financial trends.

Renewed commitment of Christians

The World Day for Migrants and Refugees 2004 is therefore a favourable opportunity to express in these areas a renewed, dedicated commitment on the part of all Christians in order to show the world the mystery of God’s love which they know through Jesus Christ, crucified and Risen.

I recall here that, encouraged by the globalization process to which the Holy Father indirectly refers, in the past 20 years the flow of migrants has become enormous. In fact, more than 175 million people today live outside their native Country, mostly driven from it by poverty, hunger, violence, war, ethnic rivalry, but also by the longing for a better life. By choice they aim for the richest areas of the world. This explains why immigration is often seen as an “invasion” in the host countries, and why some even ask that refugee centres be closed. This closed atmosphere accentuates the sorrow and bitter human plight of many immigrants, since they are classified indiscriminately as “socially dangerous”. However, the phenomenon of migration in a globalized world is becoming impossible to check: the problem cannot be solved, therefore, by closing frontiers, but by States meeting the influx of immigrants with equitable and supportive legislation.

What is the fundamental premise for an ideal contemporary “itinerary” for the journey to peace? Undoubtedly, dialogue (a term whose meaning has unfortunately been eroded by over use), which is meant not so much as a pure intellectual or theological confrontation, but especially as a capacity to coexist with others, to listen to them, understand them and accept them, with their culture and in daily life in particular. The true encounter, in fact, does not actually occur between cultures, but between real people who obviously have their own mindset and religion. It develops above all from the living experience of individuals themselves: in the family, in the work place, at school, in civil life. In this way it will be possible to compensate for that deficit of collective responsibility which is at the root of many violent acts today. However, a great many prejudices will have to be overcome. In an age of multimedia and global information, it is fortunately not only preconceived ideas, fears and tragic images that travel fast, but also the possibility and desire to understand one another and to live in peace. In short, the particular Churches and parishes need to engage in “a ministry of dialogue” with immigrants.

Welcome strangers, welcome God

Concerning this, the Pope has already said in the past: “A style and culture of dialogue are especially important when it comes to the complex question of migration, which is an important social phenomenon of our time. The movement of large numbers of people from one part of the planet to another is often a terrible odyssey for those involved, and it brings with it the intermingling of traditions and customs, with notable repercussions both on the countries from which people come and on those in which they settle. How migrants are welcomed by receiving, countries and how well they become integrated in their new environment are also an indication of how much effective dialogue there is between the various cultures” (Message for World Day of Peace 2001, n. 12),

Wherever foreigners are welcomed as guests, or even more, as brothers or sisters, the temptation to view them with suspicion gradually fades. Hospitality and brotherhood are unfortunately concepts which are generally unknown to political jargon. For Christians, on the other hand, welcoming the stranger means welcoming God himself. With their insistence on hospitality, the biblical texts of both the Old and New Testaments thus lay the foundations on which to build a universal brotherhood.

It is therefore necessary to stake everything on love, as John Paul II says in Novo Millennio Ineunte, and as we too have tried to do on the third day of our recent World Congress in Rome on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People in the perspective of: “Starting afresh from Christ”.

Is it a dream? The Pope speaks in his Message of a “dream” that can come true, for if it is true that there are contrasts within the human community, the desire for reconciliation is just as deep in many who feel at ease believing in the values of the person, of peace, of human rights and of legitimate plurality. All these people, therefore, are invited by the Holy Father to work together and express actively their opposition to every form of violence and terrorism, and to their preference for justice, reconciliation and peace, applying them today to “migration”, precisely with a view to peace.