Migration Seen as Challenge and Opportunity

Cardinal Urges New Answers to More Complex Issues

NAIROBI, Kenya, JUNE 4, 2008 (Zenit.org).-The question of migration is both a challenge and an opportunity, and one that needs fresh answers in the face of new complexities, said Cardinal Renato Martino to the African Continental Congress.

The president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers spoke Tuesday on the first day of the three-day meeting titled “Toward a Better Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees in Africa at the Dawn of the Third Millennium.”

The congress, organized by the pontifical council and the Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Seafarers of the Kenyan episcopal conference, is being attended by representatives from more than 20 African nations, including bishops and pastoral care workers.

“It is true that the phenomenon of migration, both voluntary as well as forced, has always been part of human history,” said the cardinal, “but recently it has assumed a structural and universal dimension, of ever more complex significance.”

Because of this, he said, governments and international organizations are called to address this phenomenon and its “special challenges and opportunities.”

Root causes

Cardinal Martino acknowledge that the issue of migration is widely discussed and debated, but questioned whether it was “perceived in all its complexity.”

He said governments focus “almost exclusively on strategies and mechanisms for the control and containment of these movements of people,” and the media put “an excessive emphasis on the more tragic aspects of its human and social cost, namely, death, criminality, prostitution, political terrorism, extreme poverty.”

One cannot speak of migration, the cardinal continued, and ignore the root causes, such as “extreme poverty, demographic imbalances, extremist nationalist tendencies, structural strikes, financial interdependence, hostility and violence against immigrants, fugitives and foreigners in general.”

Cardinal Martino said he wanted to take advantage of the congress to reflect “once again on [the Church’s] old and at the same time new universal message, mediated through pastoral initiatives, which demonstrate her maternal assistance in this sector.”

“The Church is called to discover and to live in depth her Catholic dimension,” he said. Its role is to give “a dynamic testimony of the Gospel, taking the message of universal communion to all nations, and a unity free from geographic, historical and cultural borders.”

Without precedents

The cardinal said this mission “does not attempt to eliminate legitimate differences, but to make them a reality and to respect the legitimate identity of every person.”

From this perspective, he continued, the Church fosters “attention to the culture and language of the foreigner, to promote his dignity and defend his fundamental rights,” as well as the “‘providential vision of migrations in the building of the kingdom, the concept of pentecostal communion which accepts all differences and the contribution of all, immigrants and refugees, to dialogue and peace among nations.”

Cardinal Martino highlighted “the positive dimension of human migrations in the perspective of the specific pastoral action of the Church,” expressed in the instruction “Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi,” issued by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers in 2004. The document calls for “a new and inspired interpretation of the migratory phenomenon,” described as a “challenge without precedents.”

Documents such as “Exsul Familia,” “Gaudium et Spes,” “Pastoralis Migratorum Cura” and now “Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi,” indicate “the continuity and relevance of the teaching of the Church, and its substantial contribution to the issues of migrations,” the Vatican official recalled.

With “Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi,” the prelate added, “the ecclesial community is called to become ever more conscious of its universal mission in the world and in history, before God and humanity, trusting that, in the end, migrants will be a vehicle of unity and peace in a world ever more united by ties of solidarity.”

Cardinal Martino said the instruction seeks “to actualize the vision of the Church on the pastoral care of migrants,” and “to give an ecclesial answer to the new pastoral needs of migrants.”


He added that it urges the faithful to transform this phenomenon, which at present affects more than 200 million people, into “an opportunity of dialogue and mission in view of the New Evangelization.”

Furthermore, “an ecumenical vision” of migration is necessary, said the cardinal, given that migrants might belong to other Christian confessions or other religions.

In this connection, one of the implicit topics in the whole instruction is that of dialogue, Cardinal Martino recalled.

He called it an “indispensable” and “non-negotiable element,” given that migration implies the interaction of peoples and groups “at profoundly human, religious and cultural levels.”

Dialogue is not in opposition to evangelization, said the cardinal. “The dialogue of life, which bears witness to Christian charity” also calls for “an opening.”

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