On the First Anniversary of Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi

Author: Archbishop Agostino Marchetto

On the First Anniversary of Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi

Archbishop Agostino Marchetto
Secretary, Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

A milestone in teaching on human mobility

On 1 May 2004, the late Pope John Paul II authorized the publication of the Instruction Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (dated 3 May; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 26 May 2004, special insert, pp. I-XVI). Since then a year has passed in which the Council has done its utmost to explain the Document at various Church levels: continental, national, diocesan and local, to all the Christian communities.

An important Document

The immediate response gave rise above all to a comparison of Pastoral Instructions 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 Umma [Iraq].

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 experience", n. 67).

Based as it is on daily events, the Instruction 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 (cf. Final Document, in People on the Move 96 [2004] 164).

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, some having to do with the legitimate acquisitions of modern life and thought as the Instruction states: "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" (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. Instructions and pastoral norms 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: "'Inculturation'", it says, "begins by listening, which means getting to know those to whom we proclaim the Gospel. Listening and knowing lead to a 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, respect 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 made no special innovations, 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 the publication of the "Motu Proprio" De Pastorali Migratorum Cura (cf. ibid., Presentation).

Continuity and renewal

The Instruction, in any case, reflected the earlier Instruction of the Magisterium: the urgent priority need to provide a specific form of pastoral care for Catholic migrants, that is, those who "'on account of their way of life, cannot sufficiently make use of the common and ordinary pastoral care of parish priests...''' (ibid., n. 21; cf. also Christus Dominis n. 18; Exsul Familia, n. 5; De Pastorale Migratorum Cura, n. 15).

The perspective has changed, however, since migration is no longer considered a transitory phenomenon but rather an event that "is becoming more and more a permanent structural phenomenon" (Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi, n. 1).

The knowledge that migrants have their own cultural heritage must be preserved and deepened. According to the Instruction, this implies making specific pastoral decisions concerning the reception of migrants, summarized as follows: "'This specific pastoral work operates in the context of a phenomenon which, by bringing 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 paying precise attention to the context and to their rights as human persons which the Instruction recognizes: their right to have a homeland, to emigrate, to preserve their own language and cultural patrimony, thereby reasserting what had been said earlier in De Pastorale Migratorum Cura (cf. nn. 5; 1-11), but providing new emphases, thanks to the thought of John Paul II, who insisted on the "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; cf. Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Address of the Holy Father, n. 2; Atti del IV Congresso Mondiale sulla Pastorale de Migranti e dei Rifugiati [5-10 October 1998], Vatican City, 1999, p. 9).

The specific pastoral care of migrants, however, corresponds exactly with the fundamental right of the baptized to receive in abundance the means of salvation. A well-known canon lawyer therefore attests, "I think that it is not 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).

The horizon that has been revealed is truly vast. It reaches to the very essence of the Church, the sacramentum unitatis.

"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 the 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).

A new areopagus

A characteristic feature of the Instruction Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi thus consists first and foremost in bringing into focus the elements mentioned above, to highlight the phenomenon of migration through the filter of the value of Revelation (salvation history) as a "sign of the times" and a "challenge" (Part I).

The Document then clearly outlines the pastoral care of welcome (Part II) that converges in the various paragraphs, presenting 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 assimilation of a new awareness of our changing times and consequently of the new contexts for Gospel proclamation that are emerging.

So it is that side by side with other realities migration can also be clearly described as a new areopagus in which people can encounter and become acquainted with Jesus Christ and his Gospel.

The Church is thus primarily required to resume her constructive dialogue with cultures, to prevent the "semina Verbi" from falling on unsuitable ground and being doomed to wither and die without bearing fruit (cf. ibid., n. 96).

People "in exodus", especially those on the move from countries not traditionally Christian, who in ever-growing numbers leave their own countries to arrive full of hope and illusions on the beaches of countries with a 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 and active 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, 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" (ibid., n. 86; cf. nn. 87-88).

A glance to the future

The Instruction Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi, therefore, 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 the harmoniously blended multiplicity and diversity of peoples, languages, cultures and nations. The "edifice of spirit" (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 fulfilled 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 migrants.

Therefore, even the normative elements that 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 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, of solidarity (cf. ibid., nn. 39-43) and of 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. 3436), "like a standard lifted on high for the nations to see it" (Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 2).

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
1 June 2005, page 8

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