Solidarity Called Christian Response to Migration

Vatican Official Urges a Culture of Respect

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LIVERPOOL, England, NOV. 24, 2008 ( In a world with more than 200 million migrants and refugees, the Vatican is encouraging a «culture of solidarity» that respects people’s material and spiritual needs and, especially, their dignity.

Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, promoted this culture in a conference sponsored by the Council of European Episcopal Conferences and the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar.

The Wednesday through Sunday conference focused on «The Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Foreign Students.»

In the Church, the prelate observed in his address, no one is a foreigner, because it embraces every nation, race, people and tongue. Christ, moreover, is present in the Church, bringing it to walk «with and toward» him.

The unity of the Church, the archbishop continued, «does not stem from her members having an identical national or ethnic origin but from the Spirit of Pentecost, who makes all nations a new people whose goal is the Kingdom, whose condition is the freedom of sons and daughters, and whose statute is the law of love.»

Thus, the Church feels that it is profoundly involved in the «evolution of civilization of which [human] mobility is a striking feature,» and is therefore called «to proclaim peace also in situations of forced migrations,» he said.

«To walk with and toward Jesus Christ, present in the refugees, a fundamental biblical vision has to sustain us,» Archbishop Marchetto continued, noting that the history of salvation went through various stages regarding the treatment of foreigners.

«On the one hand there was some fear that relations with foreigners might lead to a loss of religious purity and consequently of national identity. The Israelites, in fact, had to protect themselves against this, with the consequential behavior whereby intermarriages were forbidden and observances of purity needed to be followed,» he said.

In other cases, the prelate continued, «the stranger was to be treated in the same way as the Israelites,» based in the outlook that sought justice also for the vulnerable: the poor, the widows and the orphans.

«The Israelites were therefore frequently reminded of God’s special concern for the weak. […] [The weak] were not to be abused and were to receive equal treatment before the law,» the archbishop explained.

Jesus, too

Christ would take up the same position, expressing a preference for the excluded who were considered ritually impure. Christ, the prelate affirmed, «does not hesitate to associate himself with foreigners.»

This outlook was also promoted and transmitted by the first Christian communities, which built up «equality and unity among different peoples who gave witness to [Jesus] and announced the Gospel,» he said.

Little by little, hospitality became an integral component of Christianity, the prelate continued, with structures such as monasteries, which provided room for travelers and care for the ill, as well as providing for the poor of the local community.

Refugees are «always in the heart of the Church» Archbishop Marchetto affirmed. Ministry should thus take into account both spiritual and physical needs, with special emphasis on protecting family unity.

Personal responsibility

The Church is guided in this ministry by the principles of social doctrine, the Vatican official continued. One of the main principles of this doctrine is the fundamental dignity of every human person, such that if a person cannot live a decent life in his homeland, «he has the right, under given circumstances, to move elsewhere.»

Aware of the grave situations in which refugees find themselves, the archbishop added, the Church believes this problem can only be resolved with sincere international collaboration.

«In order for this to happen,» he said, «it is necessary for a culture of solidarity and interdependence to spread and deeply penetrate the universal conscience and in this way sensitize public authorities, international organizations and private citizens to the duty of accepting and sharing with those who are poorest.»

Long-term policy making should be accompanied by attention to the immediate needs of migrants and refugees who continue to knock at the doors of countries that enjoy a high level of development, the archbishop added.

Solidarity, he affirmed, «is the Christian response, both personal and collective, also for globalization. It begins in everyone’s heart, when he considers the other — and not only the poor — a brother, a sister, rather even more, because he is a member of the body of Christ itself. And in exercising responsibility, no one can take my place in doing what I can do. Let each one of us therefore feel called to respond personally.»

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