Cardinal Veglio's Statement on Papal Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees

«The Church Sees, Hears, Respects and Shares with Each Migrant all the Fundamental Stages of Life»

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 30, 2012 ( Here is the translation of the statement made yesterday by Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, on the Pope’s Message commemorating the 99th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. 

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I am glad and honored today, to introduce the Message of the Holy Father Benedict XVI on the theme “Migrations: a pilgrimage of faith and hope” in occasion of the annual celebration of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. For the whole Church, it will take place on January 13, 2013. This Pontifical message focuses on economic and forced migration.  We dedicate both of our interventions to it so as to illustrate the thought of the Holy Father with regard to the entire phenomenon.

Inaugurating the Year of Faith two weeks ago, the Church celebrated the 50th anniversary of the opening to the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. The Council was an important step on its path, which showed that “the Church walks together with the whole of humanity” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 40) in everything that man experiences each day. In reality, as the Holy Father noted, this truth has continually found an echo in the Church’s Magisterium. Even today, it urges the entire Church community to promote “integral human development” (Caritas in Veritate, 11), in reference also to the “millions of men and women who, for various reasons, undergo the experience of migration” (Message 2013).

Today in fact, the phenomenon of migration is impressive for the vast number of people it involves. It is enough, for example, to take a look at the 2011 World Migration Report of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). In it we find an estimate of about 214 million international migrants, that is 3% of the global population – an increase compared to 2005 (despite the effects of the global economic crisis), when the numbers reached 191 million. Besides international migrants, the same report estimates that the number of internal migrants in 2010 was around 740 million people. If we sum the two values, we find that about one billion human beings, one-seventh of the global population, undergo this experience. This vast multitude of people, finding themselves in a situation of “despair over the impossible to build future” and of “desire for a better life,” feel compelled to begin their journey, or better yet, their pilgrimage of faith and hope, often nourished by the “profound trust that God does not abandon his creatures” (Message 2013).

“Faith and hope, therefore, often fill the luggage of those who emigrate” (Message 2013). The Holy Father uses a metaphor that, besides being a great image to reflect on, also expresses a crucial feature of the homo viator’s path. Migrants, in their existential pilgrimage towards a better future, carry along feelings of faith and hope, even if they don’t yet realize what it is they are searching for exactly. To say that they are only trying to better their economic and social condition would mean to oversimplify reality. In reality, deep in the heart, they “nourish the trust of finding welcome, of obtaining brotherly help and of making contact with people who, understanding the discomfort and tragedy of their fellow-man, and also recognizing the values and resources of which they are bearers, are willing to share their humaneness and material resources with whoever is in need or at a disadvantage” (Message 2013).  The improvement of their quality of life is intrinsically tied to those they meet in the new setting that receives them. Granted, not all migrants – even if they do have a profound trust that, by migrating God will be near them – consider their trip as going towards God and thus, an initiative driven by faith. Nevertheless, in some way, it is precisely in those people they have yet to meet that they may discover God himself stretching out his hand towards them. It is above all in countries of ancient Christian traditions, that they may experience the genuine goodness of many Church initiatives, which welcome them and help them.

In fact, precisely here, in the ample context of migrations from multiple origins, the Church is also called to show its maternal solicitude without distinction. In His Message, the Holy Father identifies two channels of activity, which do not run parallel, but are complimentary.

On the one hand, the more tangible – and let’s say, more easily detected by the media – which materializes in “rescue operations to address many emergencies, with generous dedication of individuals and groups (…) in cooperation with all people of good will” (Message 2013). This attention is of the more immediate kind, the kind in which an emergency situation appears and demands a quick response. The Holy Father referred to this already in his first encyclical, when he commented the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which the concept of “neighbor” does not only refer to fellow countrymen and friends, but to “anyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbor. – the Holy Father says – The concept of “neighbor” is now universalized, yet it remains concrete. Despite being extended to all mankind, it is not reduced to a generic, abstract and undemanding expression of love, but calls for my own practical commitment here and now. (Deus Caritas Est, 15). The mass media, which you represent here, are increasingly careful to inform using images and relating current news stories about migrants and refugees needy of help now. Without a doubt, there exists a difference between seeing and doing. Reducing that distance is one of the tasks of the Church, “matched” by the trust that migrants nourish in their pilgrimage of faith and hope.

On the other hand, the Holy Father underlines the importance of a second channel that is more challenging and less “mediatic” because it often requires a change of mentality: “The Church does not neglect to underline the positive aspects, the worthy potential and the resources which migration entails” (Message 2013). This expression of the Church’s solicitude is the ground where all activities to favor and accompany the full insertion of migrants in their new social and cultural contexts take shape. It’s not only a matter that the welcoming societies accept the foreign presence. But it’s above all a process (often long and delicate) which requires mutual comprehension as well. In this way, along with the hardships that migration entails, migrants can experience goodness and solidarity. In its own time, this drives them – the Pope writes – to “contribute to the wellbeing of the countries where they arrive through their professional know-how, their social and cultural heritage and often also with their witness of faith” (Message 2013).

Having drawn this reference framework, in his Message, the Holy Father turns thoughtfully also to the religious dimension that the Church should never overlook. By its very nature and mission, the Church is called upon to pay careful attention precisely to this dimension. It is not only an exhortation to the Catholic faithful. This attention expresses itself among other things, “in forming new pastoral structures and appreciating different rites, even up to full participation in the local Church community.” But it is also for all who believe in Jesus Christ, called to take part in “ecumenical dialogue and the care of the new communities” (Message 2013).

I would like to note that the Message for this World Day is published shortly after the Papal trip to Lebanon where he signed the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Medio Oriente. Thus, in a very concrete manner, we may turn our gaze especially to the Middle East, where the presence of migrant Christians, among faithful of other religions, has a significant role in creating the identity which is so peculiar to that region. The Pope says in his exhortation:
“Each is responsible for the other before God. It is important therefore that the political and religious leaders understand this fact and avoid a policy (…) that leans toward a monochromatic Middle East which in no way reflects its rich human and historical reality (Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 31). Mutual responsibility and cooperation, in this specific situation may allow all to live “enriching themselves with the diversity of the spiritual traditions, remaining always in contact with the original Christian communities” (ibidem, 34). Therefore, migrations become an occasion of exchange for those countries which welcome migrants. This is not only valid for the Middle East, but also for the whole world. The phenomenon of migration obliges one to confront different life-styles and cultures, stimulating the building of new relationships.

To this end, the Pew Research Centre, in its 2012 report “Faith on the Move,” associates the migratory fluxes with the faith professed by migrants. The report identifies ten countries which “welcomed” the highest number of migrants in the past years. These are The United States of America, the Russian Federation, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, India, and Ukraine (details of this report may be found on the paper copy of this intervention). Listed first are the United States of America, a country built on various migration flows and that today is home to over 43 million foreign citizens. These represent 13.5% of the national population and among these over 32 million are Christian, mostly Mexican. These numbers show the potential religious resources that migrants carry with them and at the same time, reveal the expectations they nourish with regards to the Christian communities that welcome them.

On the one hand, this sheds light on the point of view of the welcoming society. The Holy Father reaffirms that each State has the right to regulate the migratory flows and to enact policies dictated by the general demands of the common good” (Message 2013). In fact, the State has the responsibility to promote such living conditions such as may allow its citizens to live in dignity. But this regulation should account for the dignity of every human person.

Thus, the individual’s and his family’s point of view emerge as well. In the spirit of Gaudium et Spes, the Pope reminds us that each person has the right to emigrate – a fundamental right of every human being. But above and beyond this, “the right to not emigrate must be reaffirmed, that is, to be in a position to remain in one’s own land (Message 2013). To live in one’s own country is a primary right, which “becomes effective only if the factors which push towards emigration are kept constantly in check” (Message 2013).

Furthermore, migration is a path which involves also rights and responsibilities: “attention and care for migrants so that they may have a respectable life”, but also an “attention by migrants to the values offered by the society in which they are grafted” (Message 2013). It is an itinerary of integration wherein the peculiar orientation of the pastoral care for migrants should not be overlooked. First, as everyone, migrants enjoy the intangible dignity of the human person, which must be respected by defending its rights. Their welcoming and the solidarity shown them are also cardinal points of this. Integration does not only mean finding the migrant a house and a new job. It means much more: to find one’s place in the community, to become effective members of the host society without however melting into a world that, not being that of the migrant, would effectively become culturally and spiritually empty.

The Holy Father writes: “in everything, what is important is to reinforce and develop relationships of understanding and cooperation between ecclesial and institutional initiatives that are at the service of the human person’s full development” (Message 2013). The Church has an important role in this process of integration: it accentuates the centrality and dignity of the person and recommends the protection of minorities, appreciating their cultures, the contribution of migration to universal peace, the ecclesial and missionary dimension of the phenomenon of migration, the importance of dialogue and contrast within civil society, the ecclesial community and different confessions and religions. Nonetheless, by intervening in the human, social and religious difficulties associated with emigration, the Church gives a singular character to this, at present, increasingly evident phenomenon, which besides being Christian, is strongly humanist.

The Pope concludes his Message taking up again a metaphor from the encyclical Spe Salvi: “Life is like a journey on the sea of history (…) in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives.” (Spe Salvi, 49). This allegory may be also applied to many people, who with passion and generosity work next to millions of people on route. They have become “close lights” who offer “direction for the crossing” (Message 2013). In conclusion, I would like to express feelings of esteem, appreciations and sincere gratitude towards all those who are committed to the pastoral care of migrants. Thanks to them, the Church sees, hears, respects and shares with each migrant all the fundamental stages of life, renewing its commitment to be always more an “expert in humaneness,” as Paul VI said,  and as quoted in this Message.

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On one hand, the time period between 2010 and 2011, has been marked by a slow economic recovery from the global crisis. On the other, its effects are still felt, although the consequent tendencies are felt more at the regional and local level as opposed to the global level. Some of the countries commonly chosen as destinations have adapted their migration policies both because of forecasts of decreasing demand for migrant workers and also simply to protect their labor markets. Worries with regard to decreased remittances have for the most part been shown to be unfounded.

Migration flows towards developed countries have slowed down during the crisis and the following years. For example, the number of migrants who entered the United States of America decreased from 1,130,818 people in 2009 to 1,042,625 in 2010; In the United Kingdom, the number decreased from 505,000 in 2008 to 470,000 in 2009; the situation in Spain is distinguished by a decrease from 692,228 people who entered in 2008 to 469,342 in 2009, while in Sweden there was a decrease from 83,763 in 2009 to 79,036 in 2010; in New Zealand, from 63,910 in 2008 to 57,618 in 2010.

Nevertheless, the migratory movements have not inverted noticeably and the number of international migrants has remained basically unchanged: in 2010, the number of international migrants in the world was estimated at about 214 million people, an increase over the 191 million in 2005. This value corresponds to 3% of the total global population. Furthermore, If the total number of internal migrants is estimated at 740 million people, this means that about one billion human beings (that is, one-seventh of the global population) are migrants.

Among the first ten countries of origin for international migrants, Mexico is the first with 12,930,000 migrants. According to statistics, the North-American country is followed by India (11,810,000 people) and the Russian Federation (11,260,000). China, Bangladesh and Ukraine are next on the list with respect to the number of emigrants, numbering respectively 8,440,000, 6,480,000 and 6,450,000. Seventh on the list are the Palestinian territories with 5,740,000 million migrants, because the United Nations statistics include among the Palestinian refugees also their descendants. Last in line is the United Kingdom with 5,010,000, Philippines with 4,630,000 and Pakistan with 4,480,000.

As already mentioned above, in 2011, more t
han 12,000,000 people emigrated from Mexico, equal to about 10.4% of the total population. Among the destinations, besides the United States, were Canada (49,925), Spain (23,587), Germany (9,583), Bolivia (7,733), the United Kingdom (5,738) and Costa Rica (5,500).

The list containing the top ten destinations includes the United States of America first at 42,810,000 people, followed by the Russian Federation (12,270,000), Germany (10,760,000), Saudi Arabia (7,290,000) and Canada (7,200,000). Noteworthy is the fact that the United States receives four times the number of migrants as Russia, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Canada combined. The last five on the list are European countries, that is, France (6,680,000), United Kingdom (6,450,000), Spain (6,380,000) and Ukraine (5,260,000), while India is ninth with 5,440,000 entrances. Summing all these up, the ten preferred countries welcome about 110 million migrants, more than 50% of global international migrants.

In 2010, the United States of America welcomed about 43 million foreign citizens, which represent 13.5% of the national population. Of these, almost a third was constituted of Mexicans (11,746,539 – 29.4% of the migrant population), the largest group in the country. Three Asian countries follow: India (1,796,467 – 4.5%), Philippines (1,766,501 – 4.4%) and China (1,604,373 – 4%). 1,243,785 people come from Vietnam and 1,207,128 from El Salvador. Cuba, instead, lets out 1,112,064 migrants, while Korea lets out 1,086,945.

[Translation by Pietro Gennarini]
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