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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 105, December 2007



The Migrant Family: Challenges Today

and the Way Forward for the Church*

(Opening Session)



Archbishop Agostino MARCHETTO

Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care

of Migrants and Itinerant People


Dear friends,

First of all, I must thank you for organizing this meeting on the theme “The Migrant Family in Asia: Reaching Out and Touching Them”, here in Kota Kinabalu. Special thanks go to Brother Anthony Rogers, who is also one of our Consultors.

The first part of my talk is a presentation of the Holy Father’s Message on the occasion of the 93rd World Day for Migrants and Refugees[1] which was celebrated all over the world on Sunday, 14th January 2007, because it deals with the burning question of the migrant family, which is in fact the theme of our meeting. 

Part  I 

1. The Family and the “Migration Project”

This starts with the observation that in the host country migrant families often only come together again when the individual migrant has found his footing, which usually means that his economic situation enables him in the first instance to survive and subsequently to be economically independent.

Moreover, especially in societies with a high rate of immigration, the family takes second place to the individual with his capacity for production or success; the resulting relationships are therefore functional and anonymous, both at work and in day-to-day life, and it is above all the family that suffers. Language too, which is a means of communication, becomes a barrier within the family itself, dividing the first generation from the later ones. Members of a family thus become more isolated, which sometimes ends in loneliness and a marginal existence in a town or district often felt to be “hostile”. This isolation is even more accentuated in the case of women, confined to their four walls and with little opportunity to have contacts outside (cf. Erga migrantes caritas Christi – EMCC –, no. 5)[2], when indeed they do not even “end up as victims of human trafficking and prostitution”. Warning of this danger the Papal Message appeals to the important help that can be given by religious sisters, who “can offer a service of mediation that is appreciated and meritorious and of ever growing value”. 

2. The Holy Family and Emigration

In the Pontifical Message that we are discussing – fifty-five years after the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution Exsul Familia (of 1st August 1952) – Pope Benedict XVI tells us that the considerations of Pope Pius XII in that document are still valid today. Pope Pius XII exhorted us to see the Holy Family of Nazareth in its exile as “the model, the example and the support of all emigrants and pilgrims” (no. 1). In fact in the drama lived by Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus we can recognise the painful story of people of all times when uprooted: “migrants, refugees, exiles, the displaced and persecuted”. They are at one and the same time both a reminder and a prophecy: a reminder of the biblical admonition that no one has a stable home on this earth; a prophecy that ends the night of egoism and brings the dawn of solidarity, proclaiming the good news that the earth is meant for all men, whereas barriers and frontiers are being created and societies built up that are hostile to one another. With regard to frontiers I must unfortunately note that in a world that was so happy to see the Berlin wall destroyed, other frontiers are being created between districts, cities and nations. When the current Belgian Ambassador presented his Letters of Credit, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI declared, “What is needed is an immigration policy that reconciles the just interests of the host country with the necessary development of the less favoured nations. Such a policy must also be backed by the will to integrate the newcomers, leaving no room for rejecting people or depriving them of all their rights as we see happening in the drama of those with no documents.”[3] 

3. Drawbacks and dangers

In addition to migrants in possession of regular permits of residence and with an employment contract, there are others – and their numbers are increasing – who leave their own country hoping to find a better future in the developed world. Sometimes they come alone, sometimes in groups, even paying prices that are very high for their poor means, sometimes with false documents or as victims of criminal organisations. Sometimes the journey itself becomes a death trap, and when they reach the “land of their dreams” not a few experience the reverse side of the coin: corruption, criminality or prostitution. In this connection it is particularly encouraging that the Holy Father has called for a ratification of the “international instruments that aim at defending the rights of migrants, refugees and their families”, beginning with the International Convention for the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and the members of their families, which came into force on 1st July 2003. 

4. “Defence mechanisms”

In itself migration generally means a sad situation of living on the margin of society; this leads to frustration and insecurity and conflict between the migrant and his family on the one hand and the society they are living in on the other. The immigrant family tends to set up a series of “defence mechanisms” (which the Papal Message refers to) in order to stabilise its existence.

In particular it reduces its aspirations, attempting to complete its “provisional migration plans” in the shortest time possible. In this way its “aspirations” are limited to the economic field.

But as the years pass, when other family members join the group, or children are born, and the migration experience continues, the initial “project” undergoes radical transformations. In this stabilisation process the aspirations of the parents become more accentuated in the children too.

5. Challenges and prospects

Immigrants and in particular their families are part of the daily life of the countries they live in. Society and Christian communities are therefore called to face the complex problems and difficulties but also the values and resources of this novel element in their midst. This means developing relationships that will on the one hand help immigrants find their place in society and on the other hand be the occasion for personal, social and ecclesial growth on the part of Christians, a growth based on the observance of the laws, the meeting of cultures and religions, and the reciprocal respect of values in accordance with human rights.

From this point of view the law must aim at safeguarding the unity of the family and combating the phenomenon that is becoming more and more widespread of factual rejoining (irregular family reunions), caused especially by the difficulties encountered in meeting the requisites for legal reunification and the long bureaucratic process needed to obtain this. 

6. Refugee families

Refugee families should meet a warm welcome in the countries accepting them, expressed in an attitude of solidarity and compassion on the part of the local community. An attitude of this kind will facilitate especially the integration of persons who have fled from the violation of human rights and from persecution and abuses as defined in the Convention of 1951 and its subsequent additions. Today however – we are sorry to note – understanding and sympathy for refugees is dwindling, as is shown by the fact that measures are being taken which make life more difficult for those seeking asylum.

We see that many times refugees are described in a negative manner and are looked upon almost as a menace or a political nuisance; the values they bring and the potential contribution they can make to the host country are left out of account.

The situation of persons living uprooted in their own country (internally displaced persons) is in general even worse, because there is not as yet any international legislation to cover them. In reality some “Guidelines” exist.

Here we must also talk about people subject to human trafficking – a further drama within the drama – to combat which wider opportunities for legal migration would be a much-needed help. This would also bring the advantage of obtaining more manpower for economies suffering from the aging of the population (cf. Message, paragraph 3). This desirable programme should also provide for the resettling of refugees, which would give them new prospects of life. 

7. Some figures

To give figures that illustrate the situation, I would point out that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)[4] is concerned with some 20 million persons, more than 9 million of which are refugees strictly speaking, while the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has the care of more than four million Palestinians. Nor can I forget in the present situation the need for urgent measures to help the Christians of Iraq and other religious minorities in that country. Finally I would recall that those living displaced in their own country in conditions similar to those of the refugees number a further 24 million.

I would also point out that in the countries we classify as the south of the world there are at present some six million refugees who have been living for over five years in special “camps”, where often little respect is shown for their rights, by which I mean that they are not allowed to take a job and are not free to leave the “camp”, because they are restricted in their movements. They are therefore soon reduced to dependence on the food rations they are given, which are often insufficient owing to the problem of collecting the necessary funds or to logistic difficulties. Frequently the nourishment they receive is no more than between 20% and 50% of what was planned. Moreover the lack of variety in their rations leads to serious forms of malnutrition.

It is obvious that to maintain a family in such conditions is very difficult. This situation has a heavy and serious impact on the members of the family and a negative influence on their relations with each other. Mothers are obliged to note that their children do not respect them nor listen to them. The children act on their own, seeing that their parents are not able to provide for their necessities, and therefore refuse their guidance. Moreover – and this is even worse – for the children and women to become involved in sexual exploitation seems a matter of survival. The Holy Father mentions this drama in paragraph 4 of his Message. The heads of families therefore feel helpless and frustrated because they are unable to provide for the basic necessities of their dear ones. It is therefore not a rare occurrence for a daughter to become pregnant just in order to obtain some hygienic product or food to satisfy her hunger. It is obvious that all this must have a negative effect on the life of the family, which means that social structures, too, are weakened, with the individual losing his value, “humanity” and dignity, whereas what refugees really desire is to progress beyond just receiving assistance; they want to work and contribute to the well-being of their host society, becoming integrated in it too. 

8. Internally-displaced families

I have already said that persons displaced within their own country are in a worse situation than refugees. Today there are about six million of them benefiting from some form of protection given by the UNHCR. The other 18 million are the responsibility of the local governments, which – it is well to remember – are often themselves the cause of their being displaced and therefore fails to provide assistance and easily forgets its duty to protect the IDPs.

I have also mentioned the fact that in the so-called industrialised countries refugees are seen more and more in a negative light, so that various measures have been taken tending to limit requests for asylum, for example by imposing procedures to obtain it that can last for years, during which the applicant has no right to employment and is often compelled to live shut up in overcrowded “reception centres” or permanent camps. To live together with others coming from a different culture and to face an uncertain future with no existential solution in sight naturally has negative psychological consequences. Then there is the question of how unaccompanied minors are treated, which in a growing number of nations is similar to the treatment meted out to adults. At the same time all the persons I am speaking of must cope with the emotional stress and trauma caused by the sad experiences lived through in the past, as the papal Message emphasises in paragraph 4. 

9. Difficulties encountered by refugee families

We should also remember that even when the head of a family has been given refugee status, which may take years, the reuniting of the family could still bring problems. It is easily understandable that after long periods of separation, lived in different situations and with different experiences, the relations between a husband and his wife may prove difficult. For their part the children must adapt to a new society with an unknown language and culture. This may be relatively easy for the smaller children, but the older ones will go through a difficult period. The parents’ situation may be complicated by difficulty of access to the labour market, language barriers and possible discrimination against foreigners. Unless there are suitable projects to help refugees find their place on the labour market according to their professional abilities, they will probably be directed into unskilled jobs with low income, which will have a bad impact on the whole family.

Refugees recognised as such and the members of their families will also have to adapt to the life of the host country with activities that are different if not actually unknown in their country of origin. To take a simple example that any housewife can understand: cleaning the windows. This may be a problem for someone who has always lived in the tropics in a “house”, if we may call it such, in which the openings in the walls have no glass in them. Cleaning the kitchen can also be a novelty if you have always done the cooking outside. Then, in the new country, which are flowers and which are weeds to be thrown away? It will also be important to be accepted by the neighbours and gradually integrated into society, which is no easy matter. Moreover there will be many documents and forms to fill in, all complicated by the language. In all this social assistants and cultural aides will have their work cut out, as the Holy Father states in his Message in paragraph 6. They can of course be helped by volunteers, often members of the local Church, who can play a very important part in the process of adaptation. 

10. Sometimes a happy ending

So little by little refugees and their families will become accustomed to their new environment, taking part in the daily life of the host country, and gradually their neighbours may come to appreciate their qualities and values. Many happy stories could be told about this, but usually these are not reported in the media!

For refugees to be helped by volunteers too is therefore necessary during the process of integration. It shows respect for the newcomers and at the same time allows them to adapt in the true sense of integration, which is not assimilation. For us this attitude has deep roots in Christianity and today too, in a concrete manner, it shows what the Church is and what it stands for.

As the Holy Father stated: “Anyone nourished with the faith of Christ at the Eucharistic Table assimilates his same style of life, which is the style of service especially attentive to the weakest and most underprivileged persons. In fact, practical charity is a criterion that proves the authenticity of our liturgical celebrations.”[5]  

Part II 

After the presentation of the Holy Father’s Message concerning our theme, the migrant family, we have to see our corresponding task, for now and in the future. 

11. The Church’s way in taking care of migrants and refugees

To develop this second part, the Instruction Erga migrantes Caritas Christi will be the basis of our considerations. This Document presents us with the tasks that the Church undertakes regarding migration, subdivided into different levels. In the first place, I must affirm that she wishes to be present wherever migrants are found, in order to share their joys and expectations, their pain and suffering. The Church is certainly present to offer human help and social solidarity, to defend them (advocacy) in case their rights are at risk, but she is present, above all, by means of its pastoral care, starting with preparation at their departure. The Church is therefore called to help potential migrants (cf. EMCC, no. 96) prepare themselves to face life in a foreign country. In fact, it is important that they are provided with the correct information about the States where they are bound to live, regarding laws, legislation related to work, customs, religious traditions, democratic conditions, etc. When a person decides to emigrate, the Church of origin should therefore give advice about the country of destination, in view of the future pastoral, social and legal assistance.

12. The ministry of welcome

Migrants, refugees, people who have to leave their homes, who fall into the trade of human beings or poor foreign students, can certainly find themselves in extreme need of food and clothing, of medical care and medication. The Church, who welcomes them through its organisations, has to assist them offering them solidarity. Welcome, then, is the first specific action in response to the migratory phenomenon (cf. EMCC, no. 38 & nos. 49-55) as it directs its attention towards persons and families of various nationalities, ethnic origin and religion, and thus helps the Church to express its authentic physiognomy and to make it visible (cf. GS, no. 29). The ecclesial welcome moreover offers Catholic migrants and families the privileged opportunity, though often painful, to reach a greater sense of belonging to the Universal Church (cf. EMCC, no. 39). In welcoming migrants the Church does not make any kind of discrimination but welcomes everybody irrespective of country of origin, race or religious belief: “This welcome is fully based on love for Christ, in the certainty that good done out of love of God to one’s neighbour, especially the most needy, is done to Him” (EMCC, no. 40). 

13. The task of advocacy

When the rights of migrants and their families are downtrodden, the Church defends them, availing also of its moral authority. In this regard, in our Instruction we read: “Migrants are often victims of illegal recruitment and of short-term contracts providing poor working and living conditions [with consequences for their families]. This is because they often have to suffer physical, verbal and even sexual abuse, work long hours, often without the benefits of medical care and the usual forms of social security. The precarious situation of so many foreigners, which should arouse everyone’s solidarity, instead brings about fear in many, who feel that immigrants are a burden, regard them with suspicion and even consider them a danger and a threat. This often provokes manifestations of intolerance, xenophobia and racism” (EMCC, no. 6).

Migrants are in danger, they fall victim to the sad phenomenon of human trafficking, where even children are not spared.  Then there are problems linked to the increase in female migration. Women and young girls are more frequently becoming part of this phenomenon, their dignity and rights are damaged in many places and they need to be safeguarded twice: as migrants and as women (cf. EMCC, no. 5) and mothers.

With regard to women, on the occasion of their Fourth World Conference (U.N.) of 1995, held in Beijing, John Paul II witnessed the profound consideration, on the part of the Church, “for the 'mystery of woman' and for every woman - for all that constitutes the eternal measure of her feminine dignity[6]

In the field of migration, within the context of defence and of advocacy, particular mention needs to be given to the wound of feminine trade. In fact “it is not uncommon that elements of degeneration permeate the depths of illegal migration, like drug trafficking and prostitution. […] Untrustworthy organisations induce young women to leave their countries of origin illegally, enticing them with prospects of success, after having plundered their possessions which they had gained with much sacrifice. Many of them have to face a notorious and sad fate: they are rejected at the frontier, or to their regret, are driven into prostitution[7] This is what John Paul II said in his Letter to Women in 1995. He vigorously condemned “the types of sexual violence which frequently have women for their object” and “the widespread hedonistic and commercial culture which encourages the systematic exploitation of sexuality” (no. 5), making an appeal to all States and International Institutions to “make every effort to ensure that women regain full respect for their dignity and role” (no. 6), which is different from that of men.[8]

Another authoritative appeal on migrant women was made by Pope Benedict XVI, in his Message for the 2006 World Day of Migrants and Refugees. He clearly and literally denounced the particular conditions of women and young girls, who on their arrival to the country of destination, “are then exploited, nearly reduced to slavery at work, and often also involved in the industry of sex[9]

Concerning our concrete commitment for the liberation of women on the road, for you to find inspiration in your reflections and work, I refer to the Supplement of no. 102 of our Review People on the Move[10], where the “Proceedings of the I International Meeting of Pastoral Care for the Liberation of Women of the Street” are found. I also recall the second part of our “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road (Street)”[11] which is dedicated to them, and provides precise and fairly detailed tasks. 

14. In ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue

Considering what is specific to us, we also recall the ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue[12] (cf. EMCC, nos. 56-69). It presents us with one of the most important and serious challenges of our time.[13] In the dialogue that takes place between faithful of different confessions, today being more frequent, certain questions arise on the fundamental characteristics and on the differences that exist between the one and the other. Dialogue, in fact, is the way through which every faithful is offered the possibility to penetrate more deeply into the richness of one’s own tradition, but also into that of the other, and thus be able to grasp and to express their essential elements. The dialogue of life, however, is more common and finds its expression in the day to day experience of encounter, of life in common, in the simple everyday gestures of respect, of greeting, of solidarity and friendship among persons and families who belong to different Churches, ecclesial communities, religions or cultures.

Pope John Paul II, in his Message for the 2004 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, affirmed “Migration can facilitate encounter and understanding between civilizations as well as between individuals and communities [a family is also a community]. The enriching dialogue between cultures is an ‘obligatory path to the building of a reconciled world’[14]

The path towards “genuine integration” was indicated by Pope John Paul II, in his Message for the 2005 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, as was likewise done in the EMCC, (ns. 34-36). According to the Bishop of Rome, integration is not “an assimilation that leads migrants to suppress or to forget their own cultural identity. Rather, contact with others leads to discovering their ‘secret’, to being open to them in order to welcome their valid aspects and thus contribute to knowing each one better. This is a lengthy process that aims to shape societies and cultures, making them more and more a reflection of the multi-faceted gifts of God to human beings. In this process the migrant is intent on taking the necessary steps towards social inclusion, such as learning the national language and complying with the laws and requirements at work, so as to avoid the occurrence of exasperated differentiation. […] No one is unaware of the identity conflict that often comes about in the meeting of persons of different cultures. Positive elements do exist in this. By introducing themselves into a new environment, immigrants [and their families] often become more aware of who they are, especially when they miss the persons and values that are important to them. In our society, characterized by the global phenomenon of migration, individuals [and families] must seek the proper balance between respect for their own identity and recognition of that of others. Indeed, it is necessary to recognize the legitimate plurality of cultures present in a country, in harmony with the preservation of law and order, on which depend social peace and the freedom of citizens. Indeed, it is essential to exclude on the one hand assimilationist models that tend to transform those who are different into their own copy, and, on the other, models of marginalization of immigrants, with attitudes that can even arrive at the choice of apartheid”.[15]

The different cultural identities, in other words, have to be open to a universal “grammar”, and surely should not disown their specific positive characteristics, but they need to be put at the service of others. Seen in this prospective, the incarnation of the same faith but expressed by different cultures, given the current cultural situation, global and dynamic as it is, certainly represents an unprecedented challenge (cf. EMCC, no. 34).

Dialogue and evangelization

For this purpose, in the Christian and ecclesial sense, we need to remember that dialogue and evangelisation, dialogue and mission are not in opposition one to the other. Erga migrantes caritas Christi therefore recommends “great respect and attention for the migrants’ traditions and culture”(no. 100), but at the same time underlines the fact that Christians among migrants have a new kind of mission (cf. ibid.). In this regard Pope Benedict XVI attests: “In this mission to be fishers of men, we must bring men and women out of the sea that is salted with so many forms of alienation and onto the land of life, into the light of God. It is really so: the purpose of our lives is to reveal God to men. And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him. The task of the shepherd, the task of the fisher of men, can often seem wearisome. But it is beautiful and wonderful, because it is truly a service to joy, to God’s joy which longs to break into the world[16]

Moreover in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and other Churches and Ecclesial Communities which are not in full communion with her, due respect must be given to each one’s dispositions, as the Directory for the application of the Norms and Principles on Ecumenism recommend. Therefore in our Instruction we read: “Catholics ought to show a sincere respect for the liturgical and sacramental discipline of other Churches and ecclesial Communities, and these … are asked to show the same respect for Catholic discipline” (EMCC, no. 64).

Catholics and the followers of other religions

I also need to add that in the dialogue between Catholics and followers of other religions[17], reciprocity is of great importance. In the EMCC, it is not understood as an attitude for making claims, but as a relationship founded on reciprocal respect, and on advocacy. Reciprocity is also an attitude of the heart and of the spirit, which makes us capable of living together, and to always have equal rights and duties (cf. EMCC, no. 64).[18]

With regard to the flow of immigration coming from countries with an Islamic majority, in general we are confronted with a political, cultural, religious and pastoral care problem (cf. EMCC, nos. 59-69).[19] From the religious point of view, Islam possesses values which can be shared, but others are divergent from Christianity. As a matter of fact “Belief in God the Creator and the Merciful, daily prayer, fasting, alms-giving, pilgrimage, asceticism to dominate the passions, and the fight against injustice and oppression are common values to be found in Christianity too, though they may be expressed or manifested in a different manner. Beside these points of agreement there are, however, also divergences, some of which have to do with legitimate acquisitions of modern thought. Thinking in particular of human rights, we hope that there will be, on the part of our Muslim 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 to reach harmony between the vision of faith and the just autonomy of creation” (EMCC, no. 66). Besides, Muslims are carriers of certain elements which put monogamic marriage into discussion, and bring into the receiving countries other forms of education, of clothing, and of customs and feasts. Dialogue with the Muslim world, therefore, has to take place on a cultural and inter-religious level, carried out with great reciprocal respect, taking into consideration moreover, the diversity of values in the exercise of justice, peace, defence of the environment, and above all, religious freedom (cf. EMCC, nos. 67-68). 

15. Missionary and pastoral care ministry

In the ambit of pastoral care, cooperation between the Churches of origin and of destination is fundamental (EMCC, no. 28). They are the pillars of the pastoral solicitude in favour of migrants, persons and families. The local Church of destination has to be engaged to offer an appropriate pastoral care to immigrant faithful and families. It is moreover very important, and perhaps decisive for them, that they be accompanied by a missionary (a priest) or by pastoral agents of their own country, who share the same culture, or by somebody who has carried out missionary work in their own country of origin. This cultural and linguistic closeness is of great importance, so as to help migrants live and grow in their faith, especially for those of the first generation, so that their Christian faith may help better face the numerous everyday vicissitudes which they encounter in the welcoming country. Dialogue, therefore, between the Churches of origin and of arrival is indispensable, for the good of the migrants (cf. EMCC, nos. 70-77).

The Church, in its evangelizing dimension, is also another characteristic of our Document (cf. especially EMCC, nos. 96-100). Her fundamental task is to announce the Gospel, and thus migrants too are part of its mission, on account of her ministry to evangelise all peoples.

According to the EMCC, the various components of the Church are involved in this task, with a special attention to the family. With a new kind of consideration for the laity, who are mature, responsible, and willing to offer their services also in favour of evangelisation in the field of migration, the Instruction attests: “In both the Church and society the lay faithful, lay associations and ecclesial movements, with all the diversity of their charisms and ministries, are called to bear Christian witness and to be in the service of migrants [and their families] too. In particular we have in mind pastoral assistants and catechists, animators of groups of young people or adults, persons engaged in the world of labour, in social and charitable services. In a Church that strives to be entirely missionary-ministerial, urged by the Spirit, respect for the gifts of all must be given prominence. In this matter the lay faithful enjoy areas of rightful autonomy, but they also take on typical tasks of diakonia, such as visiting the sick, helping the elderly, leading youth groups, animating family associations, teaching catechism and holding courses of professional qualification, working in schools and in administration and, furthermore, helping in the liturgy and in “consultation centres”, in prayer meetings and in meditation on the Word of God.” (EMCC, no. 86; cf. also nos. 87-88). Reference to the laity is also made in numbers 45 (lay ministries), 60 (which appeals to the commitment of Ecclesial Movements and Lay Associations), 47 (with special attention to the family) and 86-88 (more in general, but with the proposal  of the institution of an “unordained ministry of welcome”), as well as number 99, and in the juridical pastoral regulations in the last part of the EMCC, chap. I.

To be Good Samaritans in a globalized world

In conclusion, international migration presents a great variety of flows and different directions, which have become all the more complex. Therefore, the vaster migratory phenomenon, today represents an important dimension of “interdependence among nation-states that goes to make up globalisation, which has flung markets wide open but not frontiers, has demolished boundaries for the free circulation of information and capital, but not to the same extent those for the free circulation of people” (EMCC, no. 4).

The present globalized world also commits the Church to face the migratory waves and the conditions of life which immigrants are subjected to. She is also here called to exercise the mission of the “Good Samaritan”;[20] its mission is to aid immigrants and their families who have to face the difficulties of survival as well as help them find dignified work and refuge. The Church is close to migrants, refugees, victims of human trafficking, as well as to those who are involved in the phenomenon of human mobility. She is called to understand their problems, to support their just claims, to defend their cause in the various contexts and within each host country, and to promote laws which favour the improvement of the life of migrants and all the members of their families and their social integration.

The pastoral care commitment in human mobility dilates the frontiers of the mind and of the heart, it demolishes prejudices which create limitations and shows us how the presence of the other can be a precious opportunity to help us understand our own narrowness and to make us discover the beauty of fraternity, an opportunity to create respectful relationships, cordially welcoming the other. In any case, it is a pastoral care.

In the Kingdom of God

The Church, with her service, guarantees that the mutual welcome helps humanity advance in the realisation of the common destiny, so that this world may walk towards the Reign of God, in fullness, where there will be no frontiers, and where communion will be full and definitive.

This is the big “grammar” and the great aspiration of the Catholic Church and of the Ecclesial Communities and Churches, whose desire is to accompany the entire human family in its worldly journey, and to witness the Gospel of Joy and Peace to all people.

It is my wish, in prayer, that all those people who live outside their native country be understood and accepted as brothers and sisters, so that migration in this globalized world, could be considered a call, though mysterious, to the Kingdom of God, and an instrument of the Divine Providence to favour unity and peace of the human family, in Asia and in the entire world. 

Thank you!




Dans les pays où elles arrivent, les familles des migrants se réunissent seulement lorsque le migrant atteint l'indépendance économique. En outre, là où le taux d'immigration est élevé, la famille est subordonnée à l'individu, avec ses capacités de produire ou d'avoir du succès, ce qui rend les rapports fonctionnels et anonymes. En conséquence, la famille souffre, la langue divise les générations et les membres de la famille s'isolent toujours davantage.

Le Pape Pie XII nous exhorte à prendre la Sainte Famille comme modèle de tous les migrants. Joseph, Marie et l'Enfant Jésus eux aussi ont connu le difficile destin de tous ceux qui sont contraints de quitter leur terre d'origine. Ils nous rappellent que personne n'a une maison stable ici-bas, et que le destin de la terre est d'appartenir à tous les hommes, alors qu'au contraire on voit s'élever des barrières et des frontières.

Il faut donc harmoniser les justes préoccupations des pays d'immigration avec le développement nécessaire des pays plus pauvres, "producteurs de migrants". Il faut également qu'existe la volonté de faciliter l'intégration des nouveaux arrivés, qui sont souvent dépourvus de tout document. Aussi, est-il important que soient ratifiés les instruments internationaux qui soutiennent les droits des migrants et de leurs familles, comme la Convention internationale pour la protection des droits de tous les travailleurs  migrants et des membres de leurs familles.

Vivre en marge de la société peut provoquer des conflits entre le migrant et sa famille, et la société dans laquelle ils vivent. Pourtant, ils font aussi partie de cette société ; c'est pourquoi ils doivent être aidés à y trouver leur place et à se développer en tant que personnes, au plan social et chrétien. La loi a le devoir de protéger l'unité de la famille.

Les familles réfugiées aussi doivent être accueillies chaleureusement dans le pays de destination, en recevant de la communauté locale, solidarité et compassion. Il y a en outre des personnes déplacées à l'intérieur de leur propre pays et que les législations locales existantes ne prennent nullement en considération ; et il y a aussi tous ceux qui sont vulnérables au trafic des êtres humains. Pour lutter contre de telles situations, il faudrait offrir davantage d'opportunités pour une migration régulière, et pour accéder aux programmes de réinsertion de réfugiés.

La situation actuelle des réfugiés dans les camps qui leur sont assignés a un impact très négatif sur leurs familles. Les enfants n'écoutent pas leurs parents qui ne réussissent pas à faire face à toutes leurs nécessités. Ils agissent seuls et pour survivre, hélas, les femmes et les enfants deviennent victimes de l'exploitation sexuelle.

Lorsque le réfugié quitte seul son pays d'origine et que sa famille le rejoint seulement bien des années plus tard, et lorsqu'il a obtenu le statut officiel de réfugié, les rapports entre les époux deviennent souvent difficiles.  En outre, les enfants sont contraints de s'adapter aux usages, à la culture et à la langue de la nouvelle patrie. De sorte que s'il n'existe aucun programme spécifique pour les réfugiés, ceux-ci se retrouvent employés surtout à exercer des travaux non qualifiés, avec un salaire bas, dans des situations ayant des effets négatifs pour leurs familles.

Mais s'ils parviennent à trouver une aide chez les volontaires ou dans la communauté locale, ils peuvent progressivement s'habituer à leur nouveau milieu, en arrivant par la suite à faire partie de la société d'arrivée. Et graduellement, ils parviennent à être appréciés par la communauté qui les accueille.

Selon l'Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi, la mission de l'Eglise dans le monde des migrations s'effectue à différents niveaux. Tout d'abord, elle est appelée à se trouver là où il y a des migrants, pour partager avec eux joies et douleurs, en les préparant, avant leur départ, à vivre sur une terre étrangère et en leur offrant solidarité humaine, sociale et pastorale sur la terre d'arrivée.

A travers la solidarité offerte par les organisations ecclésiales, l'Eglise se fait accueil concret des migrants, sans aucune distinction de nationalité, de race ou de credo. Elle défend leurs droits et ceux des membres de leurs familles, forte de son autorité morale, en particulier face au danger de la traite des êtres humains qui n'épargne ni les femmes ni les enfants… c'est même le contraire !

Le milieu migratoire est particulièrement fécond pour le dialogue de la vie dans la sphère œcuménique et interreligieuse. C'est à travers le dialogue que sont facilitées la rencontre et l'harmonie entre les civilisations, à partir de l'accueil réciproque individus-communautés, pour arriver ensuite à une intégration authentique, qui n'est toutefois pas synonyme d'assimilation.

Aussi, le dialogue ne dispense-t-il pas le chrétien de la mission évangélisatrice, dans le respect et l'attention aux traditions et aux cultures d'autrui, et sans aucun prosélytisme. En outre, l'évangélisation met aussi en lumière la question de la réciprocité.

La pastorale pour les migrants doit intégrer une collaboration étroite entre les Eglises de départ et d'arrivée, si possible en offrant aux migrants et à leurs familles les soins pastoraux d'un prêtre ou d'un agent pastoral de leur propre nationalité. Cette pastorale devrait former les migrants pour qu'ils deviennent eux-mêmes missionnaires parmi les migrants.

L'Eglise se trouve ainsi appelée à être le Bon Samaritain parmi les migrants.




En los países receptores, las familias de los migrantes se reintegran sólo cuando el migrante logra la independencia económica. Además, cuando la tasa de inmigración es muy elevada, la familia queda subordinada al individuo y a su capacidad de producir o de lograr sus objetivos; así, las relaciones familiares se vuelven funcionales y anónimas. Por consiguiente, la familia sufre, el idioma divide, y las generaciones y los miembros de la familia se aislan cada vez más.

El Papa Pío XII nos exhorta a que tomemos a la Sagrada Familia como modelo de todos los migrantes. José, María y el Niño Jesús sufrieron, también ellos, la suerte de todos los que se han visto obligados a dejar su tierra de origen. Nos recuerdan que nadie tiene una casa estable en la tierra, que la tierra está destinada a pertenecer a todos los hombres, y ellos, en cambio, están construyendo barreras y fronteras.

Es preciso, pues, armonizar las justas preocupaciones de los países de inmigración con el necesario desarrollo de los países más pobres, “productores de migrantes”. Además, debe existir la voluntad de favorecer la integración de los recién llegados, a menudo sin documentos. Es importante, por tanto, que se ratifiquen los instrumentos internacionales que sostienen los derechos de los migrantes y de sus familias, como la Convención Internacional para la protección de los derechos de todos los trabajadores migrantes y de los miembros de sus familias.

El hecho de vivir al margen de la sociedad puede causar un conflicto entre el migrante y su familia, y la sociedad en que viven. Pero como ellos también forman parte de esa sociedad, deben ser ayudados a hallar en ella el lugar que les corresponde y a crecer como personas, socialmente y cristianamente. La ley debe salvaguardar la unidad de la familia.

También las familias refugiadas deben ser acogidas cordialmente en el país de destino, con solidaridad y compasión por parte de la comunidad local. Están, además, las personas desplazadas en el interior de sus propios países, que no se tienen en cuenta en las legislaciones existentes, y, además, los que son el blanco del tráfico de seres humanos. Para luchar contra todas esas situaciones, habría que dar más oportunidades a la migración regular y posibilidades de acceso a los programas de reasentamiento de los refugiados.

La situación actual de los refugiados en los campos que les han sido asignados tiene un impacto muy negativo en sus familias. Los hijos no escuchan a sus padres, que no logran satisfacer todas sus necesidades, actúan por sí solos, y, desafortunadamente, para sobrevivir, las mujeres y los niños caen víctimas de la explotación sexual.

Cuando el refugiado deja su país de origen y se reúne con la familia sólo después de algunos años, cuando ha obtenido el estatuto oficial de refugiado, la relación de la pareja con frecuencia se vuelve difícil. Además, los hijos se ven obligados a adaptarse a las costumbres, la cultura y el idioma de la nueva patria. A no ser que existan programas específicos para los refugiados, ellos generalmente encuentran trabajos no cualificados, con salarios bajos, y esto da lugar a situaciones con efectos negativos para sus familias.

Si, en cambio, hallan la ayuda de los voluntarios o de la comunidad local, pueden poco a poco acostumbrarse al nuevo ambiente, llegando a ser parte de la vida en la sociedad receptora. Serán apreciados, gradualmente, por la comunidad que los acoge.

Según la Instrucción Erga migrantes caritas Christi, la misión de la Iglesia en el mundo de las migraciones se desarrolla en varios niveles. En primer lugar, se ve llamada a estar presente allí donde se hallan los migrantes para compartir sus alegrías y sus dolores, prepararlos para vivir en una tierra extranjera antes de su partida y ofrecerles solidaridad humana, social y pastoral en la tierra de destino.

A través de la solidaridad brindada por las organizaciones eclesiales, la Iglesia es el punto de acogida concreta a los migrantes, sin distinción de nacionalidad, raza o credo. Defiende sus derechos y los de los miembros de sus familias valiéndose de su autoridad moral, en especial ante el peligro del comercio de seres humanos que no perdona a mujeres y niños, antes, por el contrario...

El campo de la migración es especialmente fértil para el diálogo de la vida en el campo ecuménico e interreligioso. A través del diálogo, se facilita el encuentro y la armonía entre las civilizaciones, comenzando por la acogida recíproca entre los individuos y las comunidades, para culminar luego en una auténtica integración, que no es asimilación.

El diálogo, sin embargo, no exime al cristiano de la misión evangelizadora, dentro del respeto y la atención a las tradiciones y culturas de los demás, y sin proselitismo. La evangelización pone de relieve, además, la cuestión de la reciprocidad.

En la pastoral de los migrantes es preciso que exista una estrecha colaboración entre las Iglesias emisoras y las receptoras, posiblemente ofreciendo a los migrantes y a sus familias la cura pastoral de un sacerdote o de un agente de pastoral de su misma nacionalidad. Dicha pastoral debería formar a los migrantes para que lleguen a ser ellos mismos misioneros entre los migrantes.

La Iglesia está, pues, llamada a ser el Buen Samaritano entre los migrantes. 


* Presented at the FABC-OHD Bishops’ Institute for Christian Advocacy (Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, 4-8 December 2007), on the General Theme: “The Migrant Family in Asia: Reaching Out and Touching Them”.

[1] published in People on the Move, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 102 (December 2006),  pp. 45-47.

[2] published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Vol. XCVI, No. 11 (3 November 2004), in People on the Move, Vol. XXXVI, No. 95 (August 2004) and in migrants_doc_20040514_erga-migrantes-caritas-christi_en.html.  .

[3] L’Osservatore Romano, 27 October 2006, p. 6, col. 3.

[4] Refugee here is a generic expression used to describe persons assisted and protected by the UNHCR. These include refugees in accordance with the definition of the 1951 Convention, persons compelled to leave their own country because of wars or events that seriously disturbed public order, those seeking asylum, persons who have returned to their own country and, in some cases, those living displaced in their own country.  The UNHCR also acts on behalf of persons who are not strictly defined as “refugees”; it does so on the basis of resolutions of the General Assembly of the United Nations and of the ECOSOC.

[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, 19 June 2005, in ang_20050619_en.html.

[6] John Paul II, Letter to Women, 29 June 1995, no. 5, in 29061995_ women_en.html.

[7] John Paul II, Message for the 1995 World Day of Migrants, on the theme “The involvement of women in the migration phenomenon”: L’Osservatore Romano, 3 September 1994, p.4; cf. Giovanni Cheli, The attention and the prayer of the Pope for women who migrate: L’Osservatore Romano, 3 September 1994, p. 5.

[8] John Paul II, Letter to Women, op. cit.; cf. Agostino  Marchetto, The Migrant Woman: People on the Move, no. 101 (2006),  pp. 129-137.

[9] Benedict XVI, Message on the occasion of the 2006 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, on the theme Migration, a sign of the times: L’Osservatore Romano, 29 October 2005, p. 4; cf. Agostino Marchetto, Migrations: a sign of the times, in Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Quaderni Universitari, Nuova Serie, I Parte, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 2005  pp. 28-40.

[11] published in People on the Move, Vol. XXXIX, No. 104 Suppl. (August 2007).

[12] Cf. Stephen Fumio Hamao, The ecumenical, interreligious and intercultural dialogue in the recent Documents of our Pontifical Council: People on the Move, no. 96 (2004) pp. 25-36; Paul Shan Kuo-Hsi, SJ, Inter-religious Dialogue in the Migrants’ World: People on the Move, no. 96 (2004), pp. 115­­-137; idem, Inter-religious dialogue in the migrants’ world: People on the Move, no. 98 (2005) pp. 59-63.

[13] Cf. Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Final Document of the XVII Plenary Session: People on the Move, no. 101 Suppl. (2006),  pp. 42-48.

[14] John Paul II, Message on the occasion of the 90th World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2004, on the theme Migrations in the perspective of peace: L’Osservatore Romano, 24 December 2003,  p. 5.

[15] John Paul II, Message on the occasion of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2005, on the theme Intercultural integration: L’Osservatore Romano, 9-10 December 2004,  p. 4.

[16] Cf. Benedict XVI, A service to joy L’Osservatore Romano, 25 April 2005, pp. 4-5; Walter Kasper, Ökumenische Bewegung und Evangelisierung: People on the Move, no. 102 (2006)  p. 157.

[17] Cf. Secretariat for non-Christians, The attitude of the Church in front of followers of other religions: L’Osservatore Romano, 11-12 June 1984,  p.  4.

[18] Cf. Agostino Marchetto, Religions and Migrations: from dialogue to reciprocity: Nuntium, no. 30 (2006) pp. 189-192.

[19] Cf. Proceedings of the XVI Plenary Session of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, on the theme: Ecumenical, inter-religious and intercultural dialogue: People on the Move,  no. 96 (2004) pp. 37-51 and Proceedings of the XVII Plenary Session of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, on the theme: Migration and Itinerancy from and towards Islamic Majority Countries: People on the Move,  no. 101 Suppl. (2006). 

[20] Cf. Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Rizzoli-LEV, Vatican City 2007, pp. 236 & 238 ff.