Second Anniversary of Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi

Author: Archbishop Agostino Marchetto

Second Anniversary of Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi

Archbishop Agostino Marchetto
Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

Forging a new creation in Christ Jesus

The following is an article written by Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, two years after the publication of the Pontifical Council's Instruction Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi.

On 3 May 2004, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People published the Instruction Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi (EMCC, The Love of Christ Towards Migrants). It had received Papal approval two days before, that is, on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

The Document, issued 35 years after the publication of Paul VI's Motu Proprio entitled Pastoralis Migratorum Cura and the Congregation for Bishops' related Instruction De Pastorali Migratorum Cura is intended "to update the pastoral care of migration", "taking into consideration the new migration flows and their characteristics" (EMCC, Presentation).

Shifting populations

With regard to these changes in migrations, leaving aside each one's personal impressions and judgment, we would like to provide some statistical data covering the last 35 years.

Figures published by the United Nations (Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division) state that in 1970 there were some 81.3 million international immigrants worldwide. 52.8 percent of whom were male. About one third (27.8 million) were found in Asia, nearly one quarter (18.8 million) in Europe, but less than a fifth (13 million) in North America.

Thirty-five years later, in 2005, the number of immigrants had more than doubled to reach 190.6 million, of whom 50.4 percent were male. Admittedly the world population too had almost doubled, but the percentage of immigrants with respect to the total world population had increased. and their whereabouts must also be taken into consideration.

In 2005 more than a third of the immigrants were in Europe (64.1 million) and a little over a quarter in North America (44.5 million). Taking these two continents together, last year, more than half the immigrants in the world (108.6 million) lived there.

On the Asian Continent, on the other hand, there were fewer than one third (53.3 million). There was therefore a noteworthy change in comparison with the figures by continent in 1970.

Asia, the birthplace of great non-Christian religions, is now "sending" its people to Europe, a Continent of ancient Christian tradition, and to North America, also fundamentally linked to European culture. It follows that on these two continents there is an immigrant population, or there are citizens who are the sons and daughters of immigrants, who profess a religion other than Christianity, and these are tending to increase.

In fact, a saying often heard in the Church today is: "The missions are coming to us". This means that today, more than ever, is the time for dialogue with other religions, which is by no means in opposition to the new evangelisation to which John Paul II called us time and time again.

The whole question is dealt with amply in Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi (nn. 59-69), which pays particular attention to Muslim migrants (nn. 65-68 and, in addition, nn. 61-64).

At the same time, the "Plenary Session" of our Pontifical Council this past May examined the theme "Migration and itinerancy from and towards Islamic majority countries".

We also note that Asia, the birthplace of ancient Christian traditions, includes the Land that  "welcomed" the life and witnessed the deeds of Jesus and the first Apostles. It is also the home of the Oriental Churches, both Orthodox and Catholic, now in a difficult situation with the consequent continuous exodus of Christians towards the West. Alongside the Latins, these Catholic Oriental Churches are in nuce the other lung of Christianity.

In this connection we do well to remember that the Holy Father Benedict XVI has said that ecumenism is one of the priorities of his Pontificate. The resulting dialogue is essential in the world of migrations too, as our Instruction affirms, especially in nn. 56-58.

East and West

We spoke now of the Oriental Catholic Churches, which were probably unknown to many in the West but which are corning into the limelight with today's migrations, so that they may be known and welcomed as they are, with all their pastoral needs. The Instruction Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi therefore dedicates nn. 52-55 specifically to them, as well as other paragraphs recalling the provisions of the Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches.

Thus, we have received many words of thanks and appreciation for the Instruction, precisely from our brothers and sisters of the Oriental Catholic Churches.

For example the Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and the whole Orient, Alexandria and Jerusalem, Gregorios III, describes it as a "magnificent" Document expressing a "really Catholic spirit".

We also quote the "Journal of St. Thomas Christians" of the Catholic Syro-Malabar Church, which published the Instruction in its entirety with a commentary stating that it "is a groundbreaking Document in many ways. In it one can almost feel the heartthrob of Mother Church for migrants. Though the question of migrants had been addressed in the past by several Church Documents, it is for the first time that it is dealt with so comprehensively and realistically...".

"With the present Instruction the Holy See means business. Gone is the time of mere counsels. The new accent is on action. The horizon is vast, all around, universal. For the first time the particular question of Eastern-rite Catholics gets extensive coverage and due consideration.... In the present Instruction they are subjects too, on the same footing as the other Christian faithful.... The reader [of the Document] is struck by this focus and emphasis on 'the pastoral needs of the emigrant faithful of the [Catholic] Eastern Churches'. This is a new accent in a Roman Document that is not issued by the Congregation for the Oriental Churches".

We have addressed at length the "oriental" angle of the Instruction, but this does not mean that it was not appreciated by the local Latin Churches; far from it, but it would be too long to discuss it all here.

What is certain is that the Document shows the care for migrants felt by the Church, Mater as well as Magistra, for whom no one is a stranger (cf. EMCC, n. 100). The Church cannot, in fact, remain indifferent towards them.

In his Message for this year's World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the first of his Pontificate, the Holy Father Benedict XVI recognizes in migrations, which are becoming a permanent structural phenomenon in contemporary society (cf. EMCC, 1), a "sign of the times". This must be studied and interpreted "in light of the Gospel so as to offer the new generations the possibility of responding adequately to the eternal questions about this life and the life to come and about just social relations" (Message 2006).

Wide dissemination

In this sense too the Instruction Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi  has proved to be a valid instrument. Proof of this can be seen in the numerous editions issued by various Episcopal Conferences, which have undertaken translations in various languages other than the six we ourselves have published. It was not without a certain emotion that we took the Chinese, Korean and Japanese editions into our hands, and we are now waiting for the Russian version. We have also learned that the text has been translated into Polish.

This favourable reception has certainly encouraged us in our heavy and immense commitment of presenting and diffusing the Document in the world, especially at the invitation of the Migrations Commissions of various Episcopal Conferences. For an illustration of this commitment I would refer you to the Activities of the Holy See 2005. We shall also be publishing this text in the next issue, the 100th, of our review People on the Move.

We are therefore confident that Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi will continue to be a valid instrument for the mission that God has given to the Church, as is beautifully expressed in n. 102: "God thus entrusts the Church, itself a pilgrim on earth, with the task of forging a new creation in Christ Jesus, recapitulating in him (cf. Eph 1:9-10) all the rich treasures of human diversity that sin has transformed into division and conflict. To the extent that the mysterious presence of this new creation is genuinely witnessed to in its life, the Church is a sign of hope for a world that ardently desires justice, freedom, truth and solidarity, that is peace and harmony".

Let us entrust this hope to Our Lady, "so that today's migrations may be considered a call, albeit a mysterious one, to the Kingdom of God, which is already present in his Church, its beginning, and an instrument of Providence to further the unity of the human family and peace" (EMCC, n. 104).

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
12 July 2006, page 10

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