VATICAN CITY, JUNE 24, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers is underlining the importance of reaching out to international students as a particular means of evangelization and global influence.
Archbishop Agostino Marchetto will make this point Thursday in an address to a seminar in Rome for members of the U.S. Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.
In the prepared address sent to ZENIT, titled “International Students in North America and Pastoral Care,” he discusses the growing phenomenon of international education and foreigners who travel to other countries for study.
Foreign students, Archbishop Marchetto say, “are potentially some of the most authoritative ambassadors and persuasive marketers.”
He notes that their experience, in both academic studies and also in daily living, “is critical in forming and influencing their views.”
“The Church recognizes that positive experiences by students away from home, interacting with their host countries, produce fruit both spiritual and human,” the prelate says.
He reports the results of recent studies, which indicate that the total number of mobile tertiary education students worldwide reached some 2.7 million in 2005, which was a nearly 61% increase since 1999.
He also references a recent U.K. study which estimated that the “total global demand for international student places will increase from about 2.1 million in 2003 to approximately 5.8 million by 2020.”
The study suggested that the demand for placement in the “main English speaking destination countries” would increase from some 1 million places to 2.6 million places.
Speaking specifically to the U.S. educators, the archbishop affirms: “You have a rich history of Christian life, with your own saints and martyrs. These are signs of great holiness.
“There is much fertile soil for the proclamation of the Gospel, though I am sure you will recognize that it is also a field where ‘some seed falls on rocky ground.'”
Thus, he says, the “pastoral care which you offer in your universities and institutions of higher education is of the utmost importance in guiding to maturity the faith of those who are young and are searching not only for the meaning to life, but also to bring that meaning to fullness in Jesus Christ.”
The prelate continues: “The pastoral care of those who are foreign or international students cannot remain on the side in world where the sirens of relativism and subjectivism are strong.
“Young men and women come to your land with great trust and hope.”
He appeals to the university educators and leaders, particularly those in campus ministry, to realize the “real opportunities, for those who come to your shores for study, for the future of their own home countries, and for the enrichment of your own land.”
“These young migrants have need of you,” the archbishop affirms, “if they are to be protagonists of a world where solidarity, justice and peace will reign and if they are to profit from their studies to grow in knowledge and love of Christ.”
Building the kingdom
Archbishop Marchetto encourages a spirit of mutual donation between the “students, one to another, the students and their academic studies and the students and their country of origin.”
This is “vitally important,” he affirms, “because it lies at the heart of a proper Catholic understanding and approach to the pastoral care of international students.”
The prelate underlines the Gospel’s call “to make the foreigner welcome in our midst.”
“In the welcome we give,” he says, “in particular to our international students, we experience something of the face of God.”
The archbishop continues: “As we accompany young men and women through this formative part of life, is vital that the Church accompanies them with love and solicitude, supporting, sustaining an encouraging them whenever possible.
“Their history is our history, as they will come to play their part in not only shaping the world, but also bringing about the kingdom.”
He reminds the Americans that their forebears came as migrants themselves, “seeking a land where there was peace and freedom” and often “fleeing oppression, poverty and hunger.”
Archbishop Marchetto continues: “They finally found hospitality and welcome, and new life. These are your noble foundations.”
He urges the university leaders to rediscover these roots by the “care and nurture you give to those who are international students in your midst,” and to continue opening “your land, your resources and your hearts to these young.”