Church Is Neighbor to the Rejected

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

To Council for Migrants and Itinerants, 26 October 1995

Your Eminences, Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. I welcome you with joy and cordially greet you all at the end of the plenary meeting of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. I thank Archbishop Giovanni Cheli, President of the Pontifical Council, for his appropriate words expressing the sentiments of all.

In the past few days, you have concentrated on the problems of "vulnerable persons in human mobility" and on the "pastoral implications" of this situation. You therefore examined and analyzed this critical and evermore widespread phenomenon, which includes: unemployed migrants, anxious about their families' future; migrants in illegal situations who, homesick and rejected, fend for themselves without the support of a reliable authority to which they may turn; refugees who, persecuted in their own countries, find it difficult to obtain the necessary protection provided by international conventions; seamen forced to work for long overtime hours in order to pay greedy, unscrupulous recruiting agents with their meager earnings; women enticed by prospects of success from unreliable foreign agencies who then find themselves the victims of exploitation in shameful ways; children whose health care and schooling is completely inadequate and uncertain; and again, children who are made the object of shameful commerce by those who seek them out in exotic countries to dispel the boredom of their debauched lives; the abandoned elderly who are condemned to spending their last days in loneliness and totally inadequate living conditions; nomads who find themselves on the fringes of society because their presence in the city belies the silence that frequently serves to hide their conditions of hardship. Then how can we fail to think of those children, women and elderly people languishing in refugee camps, waiting for the end of their odyssey and to return to their countries of origin in order to lead a normal life with a prospect of security and peace.

2. Today, unfortunately, the migrant's already difficult path is undergoing a delay that accentuates his marginalization and exclusion. That same growing economic inequality which exists between the developing and the industrialized nations tends to be reproduced within individual nations. Migration, which was once seen as a factor of economic, social and cultural development for the host nation, is today felt more and more as a burden, a nuisance and a problem. Subjective difficulties sometimes generate a climate of indifference, suspicion or hostility towards migrants.

Of course, every country's citizens have the right to live in tranquility, mutual respect and peace. Above all, it is in the migrants' interest to commit themselves to respecting the norms that regulate the life of the host societies. Sometimes episodes of intolerance break out, in which the real responsibility of the migrants themselves, who are guilty of misbehavior, must be recognized. It is right then for the State to intervene in order to re-establish and safeguard public order.

However, a consideration of the precarious and wretched situations of many of them should lead Christians to take responsibility for those unemployed, homeless and defenseless human beings, who expect understanding and help from those who are better off.

We cannot limit ourselves to pointing out the problems caused by their presence or merely require them to adapt to the life of the host society, without at the same time respecting their rights. The fight against racism has meaning and hope of success if the principle of equality in all areas is accepted, with the awareness that integration involve society as a whole.

In fact, it is a shared process that concerns both migrants and residents and will occur more quickly and easily, the more that foreign groups present a positive image of themselves.

Obviously, the media have an important role and serious responsibility in this process.

3. Dear brothers and sisters, with deep pastoral and human sensitivity many diocesan communities, setting in motion ecclesial institutions such as Caritas, Catholic Action and many Catholic volunteer associations, have set out with determination on the way of bringing solidarity and reconciliation to ethnic groups, creating structures of hospitality and making themselves the spokesmen of the weak in defense of their dignity and rights.

It is the Spirit who speaks to the Churches, inspiring projects for meeting the ever new demands of changing situations.

In their commitment to the disinherited many parishes have also found a way of authentic renewal.

On the paths of human mobility, where forms of injustice and violence are frequently encountered, where many "pass by" wrapped up in their own interests and absorbed by their specific tasks like the priest and the Levite of the parable, the Church knows she must assume ever more fully the Good Samaritan's role, making herself "neighbor" to all the rejected (cf. Lk 10:30-37).

Today a humanitarian attitude towards the needy is, of course, expressed in broader, more organized ways than in the past, and the ecclesial community gladly works with those who are motivated by a sense of true altruism. But the Christian must add to this humanitarian task the specific element that characterizes him: his witness to and zeal for the inalienable dignity of man, redeemed by Christ.

Thus believers testify by their deeds that the Good News is not limited to the proclamation of abstract truths, but becomes concrete in a charity that can take the form of struggling against the injustices found in the world. This is a task that should not be delegated to praiseworthy social welfare institutions but should bear the mark of the personal contributions of all who claim and desire to be authentically Christian. This is the specifically Christian meaning of the option for the poor: to live Gospel "compassion" (cf. Lk 10:33) toward those who are in need, regardless of their nationality, religion or social class.

4. "In the Church no one is a stranger, and the Church is not foreign to anyone". I recently recalled in my Message for World Migration Day (cf. L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 13 September 1995, p. 3). Consistent with this principle, the Church will never cease to combat marginalization and exclusion.

She fights in particular to safeguard the principle of equality and against every form of discrimination and marginalization.

Dear friends, thank you for what you have already done in this field. Continue your service with renewed commitment in one of the most significant and promising areas of the Church's social and pastoral activity.

May the Lord bless your work and by his grace make fruitful the proposals that have been formulated over the past few days.

To each of you, and to all the pastoral workers who dedicate themselves to those constrained to live in various circumstances of human mobility, I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing as a wish for an ever more generous effort of evangelization and human development.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
8 November 1995, p. 2.

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