Australian Conference for Pastoral Agents of
Migrants and Itinerant People
(Sydney, Australia, 17 November
Pastoral Care of People on the
Move: Challenges for the Church Today
Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao
Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care
of Migrants and Itinerant People
Thank you for this opportunity to discuss with you the
challenges facing the Church today in the world of human mobility, particularly
in the pastoral field.
Human mobility is a very complex phenomenon. It would be
enough to mention the various categories of people on the move entrusted to our
Pontifical Council to demonstrate this: migrants, who traditionally include
labor and professional migrants, diplomats, refugees and asylum seekers as well
as foreign students. Then there are itinerant people, under which are classified
seafarers, flight personnel and airport workers, nomads, circus and carnival
people, people on the road, tourist and tour operators, and
Migrants are people who leave their homelands generally on
a long-term basis, if not permanently, while itinerants do so temporarily or in
a circular fashion although the distinction is not always clear-cut. Among
them, there are those who move or travel freely and voluntarily, while others
are forced to do so. Forced and voluntary mobility are two poles in a continuum.
There is a whole range of combinations in terms of degrees of voluntariness and
compulsion between these two extremes.
Even the most voluntary human mobility implies a certain
degree of uprooting: a person leaves his usual environment and enters a new one,
where people may speak a different language, and do things differently, where
customs, traditions, culture, mentality, food are unfamiliar… Quite a lot of
human mobility, however, is forced. People would have stayed in their own
countries if conditions had been different, but wars, violence, persecution,
hunger and natural calamities have driven them out. Even without reaching these
extremes, people leave their countries because they and their families can no
longer live with dignity, well-being and security in their homeland due to
poverty, violation of human rights, unequal opportunities, concentration of
wealth in the hands of a few, and so on.
First challenge: The right to remain in one’s
Because of the uprooting that it entails, any form of
human mobility inevitably involves some kind of suffering often caused by
injustice. This is why the Church has always upheld the right of every person to
remain in his own country. The General Assembly of the United Nations itself
issued a resolution inviting “governments, with the assistance of the
international community, … to seek to make the option of remaining in one’s own
country viable for all people, in particular through efforts to achieve
sustainable development, leading to a better economic balance between developed
and developing countries”.
The fact that not all citizens of a country, but only
some, feel compelled or are even forced to move is a glaring indication of
injustice and social inequality that has to be remedied. “The right not to
emigrate,” stated Pope John Paul II, “[is] the right to live in peace and
dignity in one's own country. By means of a farsighted local and national
administration, more equitable trade and supportive international cooperation,
it is possible for every country to guarantee its own population, in addition to
freedom of expression and movement, the possibility to satisfy basic needs such
as food, health care, work, housing and education; the frustration of these
needs forces many into a position where their only option is to
The “society that the emigrant is often compelled to leave
because of the hard conditions in which he is obliged to live” has to take its
responsibilities and make every effort “to avoid the emigrant's enforced
departure” . It would also be necessary for the Church to review its
preferential option for the poor in this regard and its fight against poverty
specifically in the countries where people on the move originate.
The right to emigrate and to
Unfortunately, there are times, and today this is becoming
more often, when it becomes necessary to leave one’s homeland. This, too, is a
human right, stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The encyclical
of Blessed John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, goes a step further and not only asserts
the mere right to leave but also assures the right to immigrate into another
Many potential people on the move dream of going to a
country that is “flowing with milk and honey”. They see it in television
programs and hear about it from recruitment agents. They can also be enticed by
relatives and friends who are already there and fed with erroneous information
for various reasons. It is therefore important to provide these people with
accurate information regarding the opportunities that really exist in their
destination countries and those that do not, as well as the very real dangers
that they have to face.
Second challenge: Finding an equilibrium between
the states’ right to protect its borders and the right to
The Church recognizes the right of states to control their
borders and the entry of persons in their territory – to guarantee security,
basic human rights and freedoms – considering it in line with the protection of
common the good. This, however, should not come in conflict with the right of
people on the move to be treated always with the respect due to every human
person. “The challenge is to combine the welcome that every human being
deserves, especially when in need, with a reckoning of what is necessary for
both the local inhabitants and the new arrivals to live a dignified and peaceful
Third Challenge: Irregular
Severe immigration laws and restrictive immigration
policies, including a limit to migrants’ access to social services, have not
discouraged international migration. Regarding its irregular form, they have
actually helped increase it and the considerable risk it involves.
Some have turned to smugglers to enter another country
often in return for large sums of money. Yet, despite such investments, there
are those who have lost their lives in rivers or the high seas, or on desert
Those who finally manage to enter another country
irregularly may find that, instead of the honest and well-paying job promised to
them, they could end up exploited in prostitution, indentured labor, slave-like
services or even the extraction of organs. Unwittingly, they may have become
victims of trafficking in human beings.
Migrants in an irregular situation are vulnerable.
Although they conserve their human dignity and rights, these are not guaranteed
by law. Thus it can be easy to enjoy economic gains at their expense. Protecting
the rights of irregular migrants, therefore, would be an important step forward
in stopping migrant abuse and exploitation.
In this regard, it is important for States to ratify or
accede to the International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All
Migrants Workers and Members of their Families, which does not make any
distinction between migrants in a regular and in an irregular situation when it
comes to safeguarding their fundamental human rights.
Fourth challenge: Mobility of women and
An important characteristic of contemporary human mobility
is the increasing proportion of women involved in it. In many parts of the
world, women’s rights absolutely need to be defended. Thus those of a migrant
woman have to be safeguarded twice.
The right to migrate includes “the right to emigrate as a
family” as well the right to remain with one's family. Family separation brings
about problems for the stability of the couple and of the family, as well as for
the education of the children. It is even worse when the absent spouse is the
woman because, normally, it is mainly the wife and mother who takes care of the
home and the upbringing of the children.
Christian communities in host countries are called to
solidarity and burden sharing with migrant families. Papal documents appeal to
them to accept immigrants so that no one is without a family in this
world. The Church should be that family, especially for the heavily
Sixth challenge: Welcome and
Already in the Old Testament God commanded that foreigners
be treated well. In the Book of Exodus He commanded: “You will not molest or
oppress aliens, for you yourselves were once aliens in Egypt” (Ex 22:20).
The Church, which “has always contemplated the image of
Christ” in migrants, has great concerns for migrant workers, particularly for
the serious problems they face: discrimination, racism and xenophobia, deception
regarding contracts or conditions of work, treatment as tools and not persons,
dangerous occupations, long working hours, pay lower than that of native workers
for the same job, poor housing or none, and non-integration into social life.
The message of Church documents and teaching to governments and others
responsible for such situations is clear: They must protect all workers from
these evils, even if they are migrants and not citizens, and work together with
all nations to deal with labor migration at its roots, which means seeking a
just global economic order. Local churches have a special call to
solidarity with migrant workers and to formation of public opinion to promote
justice for them. We have to consider these questions in developing our
programs of education and pastoral care.
For programs in the field of human mobility to be
effective, collaboration between the countries of origin and destination is
necessary, as well as “adequate norms capable of harmonizing the various
legislative provisions.” This will ensure the protection of the rights of people
on the move and their families, as well as of the members of the local receiving
population. Similarly, pastoral care in this area requires close cooperation
between the Church of origin and the receiving Church.
Seventh challenge: Migration and its resulting mix
of traditions, cultures and religions
The suffering that human mobility entails can be
considered as the “birth-pangs of a new humanity”, a people without
discrimination or frontiers”, “in which there is no longer slave or foreigner
(cf. Gal 3,28)”. Human mobility is indeed an occasion for people to “get
to know one another and … for dialogue and communion or indeed integration at
various levels”. Being instrumental in passing from monocultural to
multicultural societies, migration can also be read as “a sign of the living
presence of God in history … [and] a providential opportunity for the
fulfillment of God’s plan for a universal communion”.
The intermingling of cultures, religions and beliefs
caused by migration could be an enrichment, but it has also caused tension which
has persisted, and considerably, in some cases. Antidote to this tension is
dialogue, that leads to the recognition of values in common and an attitude of
respect for differences. This “goes beyond mere tolerance and reaches sympathy,”
and encourages “a mutual fecundation of cultures …, in a context of true
understanding and benevolence.” The cultural practices which people on the move
bring with them, however, should “not contravene either the universal ethical
values inherent in the natural law or fundamental human rights.”
The Church has a special role in this area. Our experience
is that the first step to “integration” into the local Church is to assure that
people on the move feel at home there. This necessarily means being themselves
in “language, liturgy, spirituality, particular traditions.” That is the path to
the kind of “ecclesial integration, which enriches the Church of God and which
is the fruit of the dynamic realism of the Incarnation of the Son of God.”
When not forced ahead nor held back, migrants make their own contribution to the
catholicity of the Church, i.e., that “complete openness to the other, a
readiness to share and to live in the same ecclesial communion.” The
teaching and experience of the Church here can be a lesson to civil societies
that struggle with their inter-cultural challenges.
Eighth challenge: Extending pastoral care to the
members of the household of faith and beyond
An authentic culture of welcome does not make any
distinction in terms of nationality, color or creed. It is “fully based on love
for Christ, in the certainty that good done out of love of God to one’s
neighbour, especially the most needy, is done to Him”.
Thus we provide pastoral care to Catholics on the move, to
help them live their faith through all circumstances of life. Thus the Church
provides for “a specific kind of pastoral care due to diversity of language,
origin, culture, ethnicity and tradition, or belonging to a particular Church
sui iuris with its own rite”. This also means that those of the Eastern
Churches are to be given the opportunity to observe their own rite wherever they
are, as far as possible, although they can also actively participate in the
liturgical celebration of the Catholic Churches of other rites.
Catholic people on the move in countries where Christians
are a minority could be true missionaries of the faith, especially through their
life witness. This is what Pope Paul VI stated, in his Apostolic
Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, where he speaks specifically about the
evangelizing mission of migrants in this beautiful and elegant
Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the
midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and
acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their
solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us
suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected
way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in
something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this
wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts
of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this
way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a
witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful
and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization.
This testimony is bound to touch “people to whom Christ
has never been proclaimed, or baptized people who do not practice, or people who
live as nominal Christians but according to principles that are in no way
Christian, or people who are seeking, and not without suffering, something or
someone whom they sense but cannot name”. It is hence “a responsibility
incumbent on immigrants in the country that receives them”.
With people on the move of other Churches and Ecclesial
Communities, ecumenical dialogue is carried out, especially “ecumenism of
daily life” which strengthens at the grassroots level bonds of unity and
charity, far from “facile irenicism”, as well as the other extreme,
For people on the move who are believers of other
religions, “the Church is also concerned with their human development and
with the witness of Christian charity”. Thus we dialogue with them “in the
conviction that the Church is the ordinary means of salvation and that she alone
possesses the fullness of the means of salvation”. It is therefore a dialogue
based on our identity, giving origin to mutual respect and the discovery of one
another’s human and religious values.
Thus dialogue and evangelization are not opposites, but
inculturation is indispensable “as it is not possible to evangelize without
entering into serious dialogue with cultures”. This means dialogue also with
people on the move who have no religious convictions but are of goodwill.
The challenges in the pastoral care of people on the move
present to the Church have several and varied underpinnings. They can however be
summed up as follows: How to let the kingdom of God, love, communion, universal
brotherhood and peace, that Christ wants to establish on earth, reach every
person and community involved in the phenomenon of migration and itinerancy, so
as to transform the world of human mobility and penetrate it with the love of
Christ and communion of all who seek God with a sincere heart, which awaits us
at the end of our earthly pilgrimage.
CA John Paul II, Encyclical Centesimus Annus, on the
100th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, 1991.
CCL Code of Canon Law, 1983.
EMCC Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of
Migrants and Itinerant People, Instruction Erga MigrantesCcaritas Christi, on
the Love of Christ for Migrants, 2004.
EN Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii
Nuntiandi, on the Proclamation of the Gospel, 1975.
FC John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio, on the Role of the Family in the Modern World, 1981.
GS Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium
et Spes, on the Church in the Modern World, 1965.
Message Unless otherwise stated, it refers to the
Pontifical Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
PP Paul VI, Encyclical Populorum Progressio, on
the Development of Peoples, 1967.
PT John XXIII, Encyclical Pacem in Terris, on
Establishing Universal Peace, 1963.