Document Aims to Foster a Christian Welcome of Immigrants

Addresses Mixed Marriages and Use of Churches, Among Other Topics

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 14, 2004 ( The Holy See published a document that updates the Church’s juridical and pastoral ordering in an effort to offer immigrants an authentic Christian reception.

The instruction «Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi» (The Love of Christ Toward Migrants), written by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers and published today, aims to foster attitudes of respect for the rights of immigrants, and helps bishops, priests, religious and the laity to overcome unfounded fears.

The text also gives practical indications and advice on questions connected with migration.

For example, No. 61 states that «out of respect for sacred places and the religion of the other too, we do not consider it opportune for Christian churches, chapels, places of worship or other places reserved for evangelization and pastoral work to be made available for members of non-Christian religions. Still less should they be used to obtain recognition of demands made on the public authorities.»

«On the other hand spaces for social use, for free-time activities, games and relaxation and the like, could and should be opened to persons of other religions, respecting the rules followed in these places,» the text clarifies.

The document mentions the great number of Muslims emigrants today. This is an opportunity, says No. 65, to live «the attitude to be adopted in the spirit of the gospel, calling for a purification of memory regarding past misunderstandings, to cultivate common values and to clarify and respect diversity, but without renouncing Christian principles.» Catholic communities are, therefore, called upon to practice discernment.

After pointing out positive values of Islam, the document addresses the question of respect for human rights.

It states in particular that «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.»

In No. 63, the document discourages marriages between Catholics and non-Christian immigrants, «though to a varying degree, depending on the religion of each partner.»

No. 67 addresses the question of marriage between a Catholic woman and a Muslim man.

It states that «bitter experience teaches us that a particularly careful and in-depth preparation is called for.»

Moreover, the instruction appeals to the Christian community «to support the least protected member of the Muslim family, that is the woman, to know and insist on her rights.»

During the presentation of the document, Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao, president of the pontifical council for migrants, said that «today’s migration makes up the largest movement of people of all times.»

«In these last decades, the phenomenon, now involving about 200 million individuals, has turned into a structural reality of contemporary society,» he said. «It is becoming an increasingly complex problem from the social, cultural, political, religious, economic and pastoral points of view.»

The document ends with a section on Juridical Pastoral Regulations, containing 22 articles.

The intention of the document is to be «an ecclesial response to the new pastoral needs of migrants,» Cardinal Hamao explained in his introduction to the instruction. It aims to «lead them toward the transformation of their migration experience not only into an opportunity to grow in Christian life, but also an occasion of new evangelization and mission.»

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