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Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants

Message to the Participants to the 2008 National Migration Conference 


Washington, D.C., – You are gathered here for the 2008 National Migration Conference on the theme “Renewing Hope, Seeking Justice”, organized by the “Migration and Refugee Services” (USCCB/MRS) and co-sponsored by the “Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.” (CLINIC). Being it impossible for me to be physically with you, I make myself present to you through this Message, happy to encourage and praise your annual effort and to wish you every success. 

By Renato Raffaele Cardinal Martino

President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People


I believe it is important to underscore, with you and for you, first of all, the positive aspects of migration especially in the perspective of the pastoral care of the Church. After all, it is in this context that places itself the Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi (The love of Christ towards migrants) of our Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, approved by the Servant of God John Paul II, on May 1st 2004, and published two days later. This document, viewing the migration phenomenon under a new light, states that «the cultural situation today, global and dynamic as it is, calls for the incarnation of the one faith in many cultures and thus represents an unprecedented challenge, a true kairòs for the whole People of God» (n. 34). As a matter of fact, this condensed expression condenses a series of positive features, rising above the controversial and dark facets of migration, beginning with the observation that «the passage from monocultural to multicultural societies can be a sign of the living presence of God in history and in the community of mankind, for it offers a providential opportunity for the fulfillment of God’s plan for a universal communion» (n. 9). 

Moving the focus from the phenomenon itself to the people going through migration, it must be recognized that «migrants, too, can be the hidden providential builders of such a universal fraternity together with many other brothers and sisters. They offer the Church the opportunity to realize more concretely its identity as communion and its missionary vocation» (n. 103). Therefore, broadening even more the scope of this vision, it continues: «today’s migrations may be considered a call, albeit a mysterious one, to the Kingdom of God, already present in His Church which is its beginning (cf. LG 9), and an instrument of Providence to further the unity of the human family and peace» (n. 104).

The far reaching vision of the Instruction, in the end, demonstrates that «the migration phenomenon, by bringing together persons of different nationalities, ethnic origins, and religions into contact, contributes to making the true face of the Church visible (cf. GS 92) and brings out the value of migrations from the point of view of ecumenism and missionary work and dialogue» (n. 38).

In fewer words, the way of thinking of the Church, expressed particularly through the Erga migrantes caritas Christi, urges Christians to react to the challenges of migration in a positive, decisive, convinced, and coordinated way. The migration phenomena, in fact, are not confronted only by means of a series of random good deeds (first welcome), that are only the first step towards planned interventions with a much larger scope. A simplistic vision of the difficulties must give way to a global vision of all the human experiences that enter into the confrontation, the dialogue, the enrichment, and the interchange between different peoples. The development of an approach that be intercultural, ecumenical, and inter-religious is absolutely necessary, it demands the converging of a great number of responsibilities and offers new opportunities, as the Erga migrantes caritas Christi observes: «The growing number of Christian immigrants not in full communion with the Catholic Church offers particular Churches new possibilities of living ecumenical fraternity in practical day-to-day life and of achieving greater reciprocal understanding between Churches and ecclesial Communities, something far from facile irenicism or proselytism» (n. 56).

In this context the pastoral concern of the Church shows a singular merging of strategies and contents, proposing a course that will respect and build on the person of the migrant: keeping in mind the structural character of migrations, it is then expedient also to develop a political action explicit and comprehensive, that does not turn the immigrant into the scapegoat for other social crucial issues, nor a threat to security and stability. Our Instruction clearly emphasizes this point: «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 n. 6). The basis for the action of the Church, instead, is the affirmation that all persons are equal, well beyond the differences deriving from origin, language and culture, in the belief of the unity of the human family. The approach of the Catholic Church, therefore, affirms the central role and sacred character of the human being independently from his/ her regular or irregular legal status, most of all in cases of defenselessness and marginalization, taking also into due account the family. Not only, the Church is more and more convinced that making the most of the ethical-religious dimension of migration is the surest way to reach also other goals of high human and cultural value. 

Naturalmente existe la necesidad de aplicar, especialmente para los migrantes de la primera y segunda generación, un cuidado pastoral especifico, el cual está bien presentado en la Erga migrantes caritas Cristi (cf. sus partes II, III y IV), bajo la responsabilidad del Obispo local, pero en dialogo con la Iglesia de origen (cf. ibidem n.70). Al respecto, inclusive en los Estados Unidos de America, es necesaria una cordial recepción de la Erga migrantes caritas Christi como esta sucediendo en otros Países.

Finally, I am happy to encourage you to study and to delve into the migration issues that are on the agenda for these days, and in communion of prayer I extend my best wishes for the success of this very important happening.