Prelate Calls All Christians to Care for Refugees

Says They Are Some of the Poorest of the Poor

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BANGKOK, Thailand, NOV. 6, 2008 ( The secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers is affirming that among the poor with whom Christ identifies himself, some of the most abandoned are refugees and displaced persons.

Archbishop Agostino Marchetto affirmed this in a talk for a three-day conference beginning today in Bangkok. The conference, organized by that pontifical council and the Thai episcopal conference, is focused on “Towards a Better Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees in Asia at the Dawn of the Third Millennium.”

In the 24-page address, the prelate affirms that “among the most abandoned of the poor are without doubt those who are refugees and forcibly displaced persons.”

In the Church’s love for this group of the poor, he said, it is guided “not only by the teaching of the Gospel but also by the ‘permanent principles’ of her ‘social doctrine [that] constitute the very heart of Catholic social teaching.”

These principles are four, the first being the principle of the dignity of the human person, “which is the foundation of all the other principles and content of the Church’s social doctrine.”

The others are the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity.

The archbishop went on to consider the Church’s constant teaching in favor of refugees, as shown even in just the recent past. He began with a citation from Pope John XXIII and continued through other magisterial exhortations to solidarity.

He further showed how hospitality and concern for the needy is firmly rooted in the Old Testament, and particularly in the praxis of Christ.

7 points

Archbishop Marchetto then proposed seven points for the Church’s ministry to migrants and refugees in the new millennium.

The first is ecclesial hospitality and the eventual integration of newcomers into the local Church.

“Welcome is not so much a task but rather a way of living and of sharing,” he said, acknowledging that “closeness forged in welcome contradicts some contemporary messages and mentality.”

The second principle is restoring Christian dignity.

The archbishop noted that refugees and forcibly displaced persons have generally lived “individually and collectively, traumatic experiences which have left their scars.”

He noted that some feel guilty to find themselves now in safety, while their relatives are left behind in conflict zones. The prelate particularly mentioned the trauma suffered by children who have been forced to leave their homelands by a variety of causes.

“A special group of children and/or young adolescents are child soldiers, who, willingly or unwillingly, have joined factions to fight and to perform horrifying acts,” the archbishop stated. “Likewise the importance of a community that both receives and welcomes is essential if these children are to start rebuilding their lives with new aspirations and hope. […]

“Hope, courage, love and creativity should be offered so that lives can be restored.”

The archbishop went on to consider the importance of establishing necessary pastoral structures. While encouraging the role of movements and religious communities, he affirmed that “the day to day approach is first and foremost a responsibility of the parish. In fact, welcoming Christ in our needy brothers and sisters is the condition for being able to meet him ‘face to face’ and then ‘perfectly’ at the end of our earthly journey.”

The Vatican official also encouraged collaboration among local Churches, particularly with regard to sharing resources to the benefit of charitable organizations.

His fifth proposal involved the formation of pastoral agents.

“The situation of people in forced migration urgently demands that priests, religious and laypeople are adequately prepared for this specific apostolate,” he affirmed.

Linked to that point was his emphasis on the involvement of the laity.

Though acknowledging that work with refugees and displaced persons requires special training, the archbishop also affirmed that “all Christians should be touched by the destiny of their neighbors, especially those in need, and accordingly show acts of charity toward them.”

Finally, he encouraged ecumenical and interreligious cooperation.

Archbishop Marchetto affirmed that “the poor are the real treasure of the Church, and cooperation in their favor will be the foundation of new links and bonds between Christians and people of good will. In doing so we will realize that ‘the Church is a sign of hope for a world that ardently desires justice, freedom, truth and solidarity, that is, peace and harmony.'”

Finally he concluded with the exhortation: “Let us go and do better what the Church has instructed us to do also in Asia. Let us walk with and toward Jesus Christ, present in the refugees.”

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