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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 98, August 2005 







Archbishop Agostino MARCHETTO

Secretary, Pontifical Council for the

Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People


On 1 May 2004, the late Pope John Paul II approved the publication of the Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi bythe Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.[1]Since then a year has passed, in which the Council has done its utmost to present the document to the Christian communities at various Church levels: continental, national, diocesan and local.  

1. An important document

The immediate response gave rise above all to a comparison of pastoral indications and norms intended to regulate relations between Christians and migrants of other religions, with special reference to Islam (cf. Erga migrantes caritas Christi, nn. 59-68). Perhaps this was inevitable, given the sensitivity that exists in many places subsequent to the global impact of exponential migratory flows from the Muslim community. Journalists thus focused on the issue of marriage between Catholics and Muslims (cf. ibid., nn. 63, 67-68), with reflections making the headlines that were generally meant to dissuade people from entering into such unions. On the other hand, the carefully thought out ideas expressed on this subject, even those based on practical living experiences, were not evaluated (cf. the mention in the document of “bitter experiences”, n. 67).

Based in everyday experience, the Instruction nevertheless was credited with having produced a well-thought out reflection on the specific pastoral care to offer immigrants in general and for the approach to relations with Muslims in particular, in light of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, the document asks Catholic communities to practise discernment: “It is a question of distinguishing between what can be and cannot be shared in the religious doctrines and practices and in the moral laws of Islam” (ibid., n. 65; cf. Nostra Aetate, nn. 1-3, 5).

At the same time, however, the Instruction places its directives in a broader positive context, where one grasps the determination of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People not to exclude Muslims from its concern for migrants. To confirm this, we recall here the respectful attention given to Muslim refugees, present in large numbers, as the Final Document of the 16th Plenary Assembly of our Council testifies.[2] 

Moreover, the Instruction itself highlights the common values of Christianity and Islam, although these may be expressed or manifested in a different way, such as "belief in God the Creator and the Merciful, daily prayer, fasting, almsgiving,pilgrimage, asceticism to dominate the passions, and the fight against injustice and oppression" (Erga migrantes caritas Christi,n. 66). This is not meant, of course, to mini­mize the divergences, somehaving to do with the legitimate acquisitions of modern life and thought as the Instruc­tion states: “Thinking in particular ofhu­man rights, we hopethat there will be, on the part of ourMuslim brothers and sisters, a growing awareness that fun­damental liberties, the inviolable rights of the person, the equal dignity of man and woman, the democratic principle of government and the healthy lay charac­ter of the State are principles that can­not be surrendered. It will likewise be necessary reach harmony betweenthevision of faith and the just autonomy of creation”(ibid.).

Furthermore, it is necessary to integrate this attention to Islam into the broader spectrum that the Instruction intended to portray by considering the various categories of migrants. In addition to Latin rite Catholics (cf. ibid., nn. 49-51) to which the Code of Canon Law refers, the document likewise contemplates the situation of Eastern Rite Catholic migrants (cf. ibid., nn. 24-26; 52-55), in this case applying what the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches prescribes. Pastoral indications and norms then follow concerning relations with Christian migrants who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church (cf. ibid., nn. 3; 56-68) and with those of other religions (cf. ibid., 59-69). It is in this perspective that the Instruction addresses wide-ranging and timely themes, such as the ecumenical dimension of the phenomenon of migration and interreligious dialogue, which today must also be confronted in traditionally Catholic communities. In brief, the document encourages a “serious dialogue with cultures” (ibid., n. 36) marked by respect for the cultural identity of others.

It might be said that the topic of dialogue is the leitmotiv which runs through the whole document, attentively encouraging interaction with a vast range of conversation partners. It is not a matter of proposing a topic that is taken for granted but rather of indicating a path that can avoid the “clash of civilizations” to which reference has sometimes been made. Consequently, reflecting on the inculturation of the Gospel, the Instruction outlines these important coordinates. It “begins by lis­tening, which means getting to know those to whom we proclaim the Gospel. Listening and knowing lead to more adequate discernment of the values and ‘counter values’ of their cultures in the light of the Paschal Mystery of death and life. Tolerance is not enough; need­ed is a certain feeling for the other, re­speet as far as possible for the cultural identity of one’s dialogue partners. To recognize and appreciate their positive aspects ... this is the only way to create dialogue, understanding and trust. Keeping our eyes on the Gospel thus means attention to people too, to their dignity and freedom. Helping them advance integrally requires a commit­ment to fraternity, solidarity, service and justice. The love of God, while it gives humankind the truth and shows everyone his highest vocation, also pro­motes his dignity and gives birth to community, based on the Gospel procla­mation being welcomed, interiorized, celebrated and lived” (ibid.). It is on this basis that each person is enabled to compare his or her own identity with other cultural values and traditions and to be enriched by being in contact with those who have different values, outlooks and behaviour. Once again, it is necessary to stress that this is not a matter of “hypostatiz­ing” a “facile irenicism” (ibid.,n. 56), but of overcoming prejudices, prevailing over religious relativism and avoiding “unjustified suspicions and fears that hamper dialogue and erect barriers, even provoking violence or misunderstanding” (ibid.,n. 69).

Some reviewers, verging on superficiality,have written that in the area of the pastoral care of migrants the In­struction has not offered anything particularly new, whereas there has been a unani­mous chorus of agreement in recogniz­ing the merits of the document as an up-to-date, comprehensive compendium that adheres closely to the real situation of this pressing topic and responds to the acutely felt need to tackle it once again 35 years after thepublication of the Motu Proprio, De Pastorali Migratorum Cura(cf.ibid.,Presentation). 

2. Continuityand renewal

The Instruction, in any case, reflectedthe earlier teaching of the Magisteri­um, namely the urgent priority need to provide a specific form of pastoral care for Catholic migrants, that is, “in those faithful who on account of their way of life, cannot sufficiently make use of the common and ordinary pastoral care of parishpriests…”(ibid.,n.21; cf. alsoChristus Dominus.n. 18;ExsulFamilia,n. 5; DePastoraliMigratorum Cura,n. 15).The perspective has changed, howev­er, since migration is no longer considered a transitory phenomenon but rather a fact that “is becoming more and more a permanent structural phenomenon”(ibid., n. 1).

The awareness has thus developed that migrants have their own cultural heritage, which is to be preserved.That means, according to the Instruction, specific pastoral choices for the welcome of migrants, summed up as fol­lows: “This specific pastoral work oper­ates in the context of a phenomenon which,bybringing together persons of different nationalities, ethnic origins and religions into contact; contributes to making the true face of the Church vis­ible (cf.Gaudium et Spes,n. 92) and brings out the value of migrations from the point of view of ecumenism and missionary work and dialogue”(Erga migrantes caritas Christi,n. 38). Therefore, it is not merely a matter of preserving migrants’ faith but of payingprecise attention to the context and to their rights as human persons, among which the Instruction recognizes those of having a homeland, of emigrating, of pre­serving their own language and cultural patrimony of origin, thereby reasserting what had been said earlier in De Pastorali Migratorum Cura (cf. nn. 5; 1-11), while also providing new emphasis thanks to the thought of John Paul II. He had repeatedthe “right of the individual not to emigrate, that is, the right to be able to achieve his rights and satisfy his legiti­mate demands in his own country" (Er­ga migrantes caritas Christi, n. 29).[3]The horizon that has been revealed is truly vast. It reaches to the very essence of the Church, the sacramentumunitatis.“Pastoral work among migrants”, therefore, “becomes a service of the Church for the faithful whose language or culture are different from those of the host country, while at the same time it ensures that foreign communities make their own contribution to the construction of a Church that must be a sign and instrument of unity with the prospect of a renewed humanity” (Erga migrantes caritas Christi, n. 89). 

3. Universality of evangelizing mission

The proper character of the Instruc­tionErga migrantes caritas Christi thus consists first of all in bringing into focus the elements in earlier pronouncements highlighting the phenomenon of migration through the value filter of revelation (salvation history) as a “sign of the times” and “challenge” (PartI). Thus in it the sketch of a pastoral care of welcome is emphasised(Part II) which converges inthe ordered presentation of those working in pastoral care (Part III) and the relative structures of missionary pastoral care (Part IV).

Therefore, one of the greatest merits of the Instruction is its adoption of a new awareness of our changing times and consequently of the new scenarios for Gospel proclamation that are emerging. So it is that side by side with other realities migration can also be now clearlydescribed as a new Areopagus on which people can meet and knowJesus Christ and his Gospel. The Church is thus first called upon to resume her constructive dialogue with cultures to keep the semina Verbi from falling on ground unsuitable to welcome them or from being destined to wither and die without bearing fruit (cf. ibid., n. 96).People “in exodus”, especially those from countries not tradi­tionally Christian, who in ever-growing numbers leave their own countries to arrive full of hope and illusions on the shores of countries of Christian tradition, need more than others to ex­perience the newness of Christianity that offers the revelation of the welcom­ing and merciful Face of God.

These are the urgent needs and chal­lenges that are pressing the Church to identify renewed anda ctive forces for her universal mission of dialogue and evangelization. In fact,new shoots are sprouting. To­day these include a mature and respon­sible laity that is blossoming anew, ea­ger to offer its service to evangelization in the area of human mobility: “In a Church that strives to be entirely mis­sionary-ministerial, urgedby the Spirit, respect for the gifts of all mustbe given prominence. In this matter the lay faith­ful enjoy areas of rightful autonomy,but they also take on typical tasks of diako­nia” (ibid.,n.86; cf.nn. 87-88). 

4. A glance at the future

The Instruction Ergamigrantes cari­tas Christi, moreover, already seems to have become a milestone in ecclesial teaching on human mobility, offering the Church a “historic opportunity to prove its four characteristic marks” (ibid., n.97). This means, first of all,her unity and catholicity, which are expressed in a harmoniously blended multiplicity and diversity of peoples, languages, cultures and nations. The “spiritual house” (I Pt 2:5), the Church, which can also be compared with the relational dynamic of the “body” (cf. Rom 12:4-5; I Cor 10:17, 12:12-27), is realized through holiness, through attaining the “perfect man” (Eph 4:13), who manifests himself above all in the variegated and ever new ex­pressions of Christian charity. This is said without overlooking the typical eschatological dimension of the Church herself, “now toiling on her way to this final goal” (Erga migrantes caritas Christi,n. 17), of which migrants' journeying can become a “living sign”(ibid.,n. 18). These theological observations make it permissible to classify the entire doc­ument as an authentic expression of evangelical charity — hence its title Er­ga migrantes caritas Christi—which the Church intends once again to ex­press to all men and women migrants. For this reason, even the normative ele­ments, which run through the whole In­struction, are aimed at directing pastoral action to charity. And precisely this af­flatus charitatis has been clearly picked out by those who have reviewed it. 

The presentation of the Instruction thus keeps the Church's gaze focused on the witness of charity as a privileged path for a renewed evangelization that pass­es through the important stages of wel­come, (cf.ibid.,nn. 39-43) solidarity and communion (cf.ibid.,nn. 37; 98-­99). Likewise, there is an incisive commit­ment to encouraging cultural, ecumeni­cal and interreligious dialogue (cf.ibid.,n. 100), in connection with the themes of ethnic pluralism and the inculturation of the faith, on which is grafted an un­precedented opportunity for the life and mission of the Church at the beginning of the third millennium (cf.ibid.,nn. 34-­36), “like a standard lifted high for the nations” to see(Unitatis Redinte­gratio,n. 2).*

On the occasion of the first anniversary of the publication of the Instruction EMCC, approved by Pope John Paul II on the noteworthy date of 1st May 2004, Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker, we offer here some significant comments on various important aspects of the document.**

[1] L’Osservatore RomanoEnglish edition, 26 th May 2004, special insert, pp. I-XVI
[2] Cf. Final Document, in People on the Move 96 (2004) 164. 

[3] Cf. Pontifical Councilfor the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Ad­dress of the Holy Father,n. 2;Atti del IV Congresso Mondiale sulla Pastorale dei Migranti e dei Rifugiati:[5-10October1998], Vatican City 1999,p. 9).

The specific pastoral care of migrants, however, corresponds exactly with thefundamental right of the baptized to receive in abundance the means of salvation. A well-known canon lawyer therefore attests: “I think that it isnot an exaggeration to say that the elaboration of the entire body of norms in the new Instruction hinges on this principle” (E. Baura, “L’Istruzione Erga migrantes caritas Christi.Profili giuridici” in L’Osservatore Romano, Italian daily edition, 10 June 2004, p. 9).

* Till this point the text was published by L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, n. 22, (2005) p. 8-9
** We intend to translate some of the comments into other languages. They will appear in our Internet website.