For the Presentation of Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi

Author: Cardinal Fumio Hamao, Archbishop AgostinoMarchetto

For the Presentation of Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi

Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao & Archbishop Agostino Marchetto
President & Secretary of the Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People


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 this sector.

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 Magisterium.

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 country

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 spreadthe 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 interreligious confrontation.

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 it.

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 contemporary societies.

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.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
23 June 2004, page 6

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