|SEEING MIGRANTS AS INSTRUMENTS OF UNITY AND PEACE
The Instruction Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi was presented to
journalists at the Holy See Press Office on Friday, 14 May, by Cardinal
Stephen Fumio Hamao, President of the Council for the Pastoral Care of
Migrants and Itinerant People, and Archbishop Agostino Marchetto,
Secretary of the Council. The Instruction was published in a
special insert in L'Osservatore Romano English weekly edition on 26
May 2004. The following is a translation of the Cardinal's speech at the
presentation, which was given in Italian.
Since the last century, the Holy See has systematically focused its
attention on the phenomenon of human mobility with interventions that show
a profound understanding of this changing social contingent, and an
indisputable capacity for suggesting pastoral solutions with a view to the
full integration of immigrants into the host environment.
Thus, an initial anxiety about the many dangers implicit in this
phenomenon was followed by an appraisal of its spiritual and cultural
potential, without forgetting the human cost of the experience of
migration and its manifold social, financial and political effects.
Exsul Familia of Pius XII, the magna carta on migration
Thus, in the second post-war period of the last century, while
religious institutions for social assistance to immigrants were being
founded in various nations, people finally felt the need for an
authoritative intervention on the part of the Holy See in order to
reactivate and reorganize the vast and complex pastoral involvement in
Pius XII formally expressed this sentiment in his Apostolic
Constitution Exsul Familia, published in August 1952. With this
Document the Pope made himself the champion of a new structure of
assistance to immigrants of various nationalities and established a common
and universal discipline for the Catholic Church.
For this reason, Exsul Familia is considered the magisterial
magna carta on migration. Indeed, it was the first official Document
of the Holy See to address in a systematic, comprehensive manner the
problem of spiritual assistance to migrants from the historical, pastoral
and canonical viewpoints.
With regard to principles, the Document affirms that assistance should
be provided by priests of the same nationality as the immigrants, or who
speak the same language; they must also be properly trained and work under
the authority of the local Ordinary; local pastors must show the same
concern for immigrants that is required of them in their ordinary pastoral
duties in the territory.
The Church: a pastoral response to changing conditions of migration
Of course, like everything else, Exsul Familia could not but be
affected by the conditions of its time. Yet it had great pastoral (or, if
you wish, prophetic) foresight, and pointed to further future developments
of thought and action,
So it was that the Church in the 1960s sought to give a pastoral
response to the many events that composed the constantly shifting overall
picture of international migration: that is, the process of European
integration, the stabilization of intra-European migratory flows with, on
the other hand, the rise and spread of migration from the Third World
countries; the creation of several new destinations for emigrants in the
rapidly expanding countries in the oil area; and the explosion of the
massive phenomenon of refugees in regions of international tension.
At the same time, these years marked the great season of the Second
Vatican Council: of renewal and continuity, of Church structures and of
the Church's increasing commitment to evangelization and human promotion.
The establishment of personal parishes or of missiones cum cura
animarum (missions with the care of souls) was recommended as a
pastoral resource; in them the pastoral role of the missionary/chaplain is
supplementary to that of the local parish priest. Ethnic reality thus came
to be a component of the pastoral care of the universal Church.
In short, elements of pluralism were introduced into the assistance
given to immigrants, as opposed to the policy of immediate assimilation.
Special pastoral care for them had come into being!
The Church faced the new realities of the contemporary world squarely,
in a spirit of collaboration but retaining her own identity. In this way,
the "signs of the times" were discerned in the more important phenomena of
the world and interpreted in the light of God's Word and of the
Thus, the problems of migration also came up before the Council, which
was to insist on the dignity and rights of immigrants and on the cultural
dimension of the migratory phenomenon; the causes that gave rise to
migration, old and new, were denounced, that is, disorderly economic
development and certain political and economic choices; and the conviction
was expressed that in her catholicity the Church would become a sign and
instrument of new orders that would also favour immigrants.
The impetus of the Council consequently inspired in the particular
Churches a renewed commitment to discussing their own internal problems
with immigrants and to preparing a more appropriate form of intervention,
since they had come to feel that it was they that were primarily
responsible for the pastoral care of immigrants. So it was that
foundations were also laid for updating the so-called pastoral care in
keeping with the Church's fundamental interests: development and peace.
Immigrants: a right to emigrate and a duty to contribute to host
Consequently, at the moment when Bishops' Conferences and specific
bodies to deal with migration were being formed and consolidated
throughout the nation, the time was also ripe to reformulate the whole
issue at its centre. Pope Paul VI did this with his Motu Proprio
Pastoraiis Migratorum Cura, and the corresponding Instruction, De
Pastorali Migratorum Cura ("Nemo est"), of the Congregation for
Bishops in 1969.
Thus, it was necessary in the process of the immigrants' integration
into the host society to reject both their passive assimilation and an
a-critical integration, damaging both to the individual and to the ethnic
group. Immigrants must be respected as such with all the ways in which
they express themselves: cultural, social and religious.
Emigration, therefore, entails rights and duties, the first of which is
the right to emigrate, which corresponds with the duty on the part of
immigrants to make a responsible and loyal contribution to the development
of the country in which they settle.
In 1970, the context of interventions on behalf of migrants was
improved by specific structures in the Roman Curia, when Paul VI founded
the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migration and Tourism
(which became in 1989 the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of
Migrants and Itinerant People), and it was entrusted with the important
tasks of coordination, animation and pastoral encouragement, especially
with regard to the individual Bishops' Conferences.
Moreover, many diocesan Synods, as far as the pastoral care of migrants
was concerned, showed an increase in human and Christian sensitivity with
regard to their integration in the community, civil and ecclesial life of
the host country.
Defending human rights helps spread the Good News
This sensitivity is also a feature of John Paul II's teaching: in his
Encyclicals and many Addresses and Messages, he constantly appeals for
human and Christian solidarity to be shown also to migrants.
Based on collegiality in the broad sense, as we have mentioned above,
the Bishops' Conferences of the individual nations have usually organized
themselves to take on their role as primarily responsible for the
coordination of the pastoral care of migrants in their own countries. In
addition, because of the appeal for the effective participation of all
members of the Church in evangelization and human promotion in accordance
with the vocation proper to each one, Religious, laity and the most
ancient ecclesiastical Institutions as well as the new movements should
face together the problems that arise from the migratory flow from more
and more remote areas, which also leads to intercultural and
In his frequent Discourses on the human, social and religious problems
of emigration, John Paul II has given and continues to give to this now
ongoing phenomenon an especially personal touch, marked by the strong
Christian humanism of his Encyclicals. Thus, the defence of the human
person's fundamental rights became one of the privileged paths on which to
proclaim the Gospel. The cultural heritage of each ethnic group acquires
special bonds with the Christian message that enable the group to embody
Therefore, the defence of a people's cultural heritage is, in a certain
way, a protection of the distinguishing features that mark its historical
evolution and character in a very close relationship between faith,
culture and civilization.
The Church shows concern to all categories of people on the move
Exsul Familia, Gaudium et Spes, Pastoraiis Migratorum
Cura, and now Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi: the Magisterium
of the Church's intentions is important for continuity and innovation:
moreover, it is a feature of Catholicism.
The Church has, of course, shown interest and concern for all
categories of human beings on the move. In addition to those who emigrate
for financial reasons, I am referring to refugees, tourists and pilgrims,
seamen, gypsies and wayfarers, circus and funfair people, those who use
and live on the street, who work in air travel as well as foreign
students. The Church has undertaken to confront Islam and start a dialogue
with Muslim immigrants and those of other religious confessions. She has
"reawakened" her own lay faithful, calling them to the precise
responsibility of animating their communities in deep communion with their
Bishops and priests.
The Church has also, of course, created new pastoral structures for
religious service to migrants, devising new operational models with a view
to a more incisive presence in the territory and in the construction of
properly integrated communities.
Lastly, she has anticipated a universal dimension and a missionary
dialogue concerning pastoral action, all at a time when ethnic and
cultural pluralism are becoming a characteristic feature of many
Thus, the Church is not only looking at herself but at the whole world,
contemplating the faces of men and women of every colour, race,
nationality and religion. With the new Instruction Erga Migrantes
Caritas Christi, the Ecclesial Community is asked to be more and more
conscious of its universal mission in the world and in history before God
and mankind, confident that migrants will in the end be instruments of
unity and peace in a world that is ever more united and solidary.