The summit of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant People began on Tuesday, May 21, and ended on Friday, May 24. Attending the meeting were the President of the Pontifical Council, Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, and its Secretary, Bishop Joseph Kalathiparambil. On Thursday afternoon, the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, addressed the meeting and concluded on Friday with a meeting with Pope Francis.
In his address, Archbishop Mamberti said that individuals or groups that are forced to leave their homeland are a fact that “goes back to the origin of humanity. They migrate for “political or religious” reasons, but also because of “ethnic or racial conflicts, environmental disasters, aggressions and foreign employment” among others.
After a historical review of the work of the Holy See in favor of migrants and refugees, Archbishop Mamberti rejected the tendency that is evident in civilized countries: “Fear of refugees , if not hostility” against them, while criticizing the “restrictive and dissuasive measures that block economic migrants as well as refugees.”
He warned that the protagonists of the “conflicts of the last decades are non-State actors who challenge humanitarian workers, civilians being their most frequent targets. The archbishop then called for the study of “new strategies of protection.”
The French Archbishop reiterated the Holy See’s rejection of “the imposition of contraceptive or abortifacient practices” on migrant or refugee women. The “migrants aren’t anonymous numbers but persons,” with gifts and aspirations which “it is necessary to satisfy for their good and that of humanity,” he added.
“The Church was concerned at different levels for the refugees long before there were international organisms to protect and assist them,” said the Archbishop at the beginning of his address. The Church’s concern for migrants was confirmed by Pope Paul VI, who created “the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral of Emigration and Tourism, the pastoral care of individuals moving beyond their borders, such as refugees, and the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, to encourage the faithful and Catholic organizations to witness the charity of Christ, offering aid for urgent needs, promoting initiatives of solidarity and maintaining relations with organisms of assistance.”
He also mentioned that during Paul VI’s pontificate, the Holy See was very involved in international forums and the change in the situation which began in the 60s, when many European countries passed from being emigrants to being receivers of immigration.
Because of this, the Holy See took part in different initiatives to receive forced migrants, such as the Arusha conference in 1979, that of southern Africa and those of Geneva in 1979 and 1989, which attempted to respond to the situation of the refugees of Indochina. At the beginning of the 90s, the Holy See also supported, for humanitarian reasons, the temporary asylum of refugees from the former Yugoslavia, he added.
On numerous trips in the different continents, the Pontiffs visited refugee camps, to give witness of the Church’s closeness and to attract the attention of the international community and of public opinion on the fate of these people, he recalled.
There were very many documents on the subject during John Paul II’s pontificate, culminating in 2000 with the Jubilee Letter on the rights of refugees, written in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
There were also addresses at the United Nations General Assembly on refugees that stressed the need to share the costs of hospitality with countries that bear this unsustainable burden, as well as fostering the reunification of families and the protection of the most vulnerable: children, women, the handicapped and the elderly.
Archbishop Mamberti told the participants that the Holy See always supported the effort of the international community in different environments and within the System of the United Nations, in order to share experiences, to identify the way to address the problem and to find lasting solutions through dialogue.
This was also Benedict XVI’s concern who in numerous addresses as well as in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate addresses the subject in the realm of human development.
To say nothing of Pope Francis and the constant testimonies of his closeness to immigrants, to victims of the traffic of persons, and his recent appeals, such as that at Easter, when he spoke of the gift of peace in the world “wounded by egoism that threatens human life and the family,” and the traffic of persons which is the “most extended slavery in this 21st century.”
The Archbishop warned, in addition, that “the burden of reception of great masses of fugitives, accompanied by periods of generalized economic crisis and concern for security have generated and generate still today a reaction that often comes close to fear of the refugees if not hostility towards them.”
The conflicts of the last two decades have changed and they are, in the main, of non-State actors who challenge humanitarian workers, civilians often being their targets. Hence, “it is necessary to study new strategies of protection at the local, regional and international level,” stressed Archbishop Mamberti.
Another problem the Holy See criticized was education and the health of forced immigrants, especially women, with the imposition of contraceptive and abortifacient practices.
“The migrants aren’t anonymous numbers, but persons, men, women and children with their own individual histories, with gifts that must be made available and with aspirations that must be satisfied for their good and that of humanity,” His Excellency concluded.