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John Paul II on the Care for Migrants

January 9, 2007

One of the consistant teachings of Pope John Paul II that has been recast recently by Pope Benedict XVI is the obigation of Christians to care for the migrant.

In this second post on the papal statements on migration, I would like to display excerpts from John Paul II’s 1997 and 1999 Message for World Migration Day, given August 21, 1996 and Februrary 2, 1999 repectively. John Paul II insisted that Christians take cognizance of the circumstances and plights of migrants around the world. A Christian must be informed and attentive to the widespread need that often accompanies migration.

The circumstances of migrants and the painful misfortunes of refugees, sometimes insufficiently taken into account by public opinion, cannot fail to inspire deep sympathy and interest in believers. With this message for the World Day for Migrants and Refugees, in addition to expressing my constant attention to the often dramatic situation of those who leave their own homeland, I intend to invite Bishops, parish priests, consecrated persons, parish groups, ecclesial associations and volunteer groups to become increasingly aware of this phenomenon. (1997, no. 1)

Christians are always and in every case called to be ministers and caretakers of the poor, neglected, underprivileged and marginalized. Migrants very often fall under these conditions of poverty and neglect:

The migratory phenomenon emerges today as a mass movement which largely involves the poor and needy, driven from their own countries by armed conflicts, precarious economic conditions, political, ethnic and social conflicts and natural catastrophes. But those who leave their country for other reasons are also numerous. (1997, no. 1)

When speaking of migrants, we must take into account the social conditions in their countries of origin. They are nations where people generally live in conditions of great poverty, which the external debt tends to aggravate. (1999, no. 8)

The faithful are to recall that Jesus Christ himself was once a migrant, and the Church is migrant by her very nature. Thus, the Church always stands in total and unconditional solidarity with migrants and refugees. The Church’s members must likewise stand in solidarity with the migrant, striving to become impenetrable to the some of the narrow limits of national, legal and ideological thinking:

I wrote in 1989: “Often, flourishing Christian communities started out as small colonies of migrants which, under the leadership of a priest, met in humble buildings to hear the Word of God and to beg him for courage to face the trials and sacrifices of their difficult life” (Message for World Migration Day, n. 2, Insegnamenti XII, 2. p. 491; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 30 October, 1989, p. 8). Many peoples came to know Christ through migrants who arrived from the lands evangelized in ancient times. (1997, no.2)

By her nature, the Church is in solidarity with the world of migrants who, with their variety of languages, races, cultures and customs, remind her of her own condition as a people on pilgrimage from every part of the earth to their final homeland. This vision helps Christians to reject all nationalistic thinking and to avoid narrow ideological categories. It reminds them that the Gospel should be incarnated in life in order to become its leaven and soul, also through a constant effort to free it from the cultural incrustations that inhibit its inner dynamism. (1999, no. 2)

In following the Master’s example, the Church too lives as he did in the world with the attitude of a pilgrim, working to create communion, a welcoming home where the dignity conferred by the Creator is recognized in each human being. (1999, no. 3)

In a time and age when many Western Christians readily defer to the law of the land before considering fully the law of love, the Church unequivocally announces her solidarity with even illegal or undocumented migrants. Every human person, regardless of legal or economic status, is a brother and neighbor to the Christian:

For her part, the Church, like the Good Samaritan, feels it her duty to be close to the illegal immigrant and refugee, contemporary icon of the despoiled traveler, beaten and abandoned on side of the road to Jericho (cf. Lk 10:30). She goes towards him, pouring “on his wounds the oil of consolation and the wine of hope” (Roman Missal, Common Preface VII), feeling herself called to be a living sign of Christ, who came that all might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10).

In this way she acts in the spirit of Christ and follows in his steps, at the same time attending to the proclamation of the Good News and to solidarity towards others, elements which are intimately united in the Church’s activity. (1997, no. 2)

For the Christian, every human being is a ‘neighbour’ to be loved. He should not ask himself whom he should love, because to ask ‘who is my neighbour?’ is already to set limits and conditions. One day Jesus was asked this question and he responded by turning it around: it is not ‘and who is my neighbour?’, but ‘to whom should I become a neighbour?’ that is the right question. And the answer is: ‘anyone in need, even if he is a stranger to me, becomes a neighbour I must help’. The parable of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:30-37) invites everyone to reach out beyond the bounds of justice in the perspective of gratuitous and unlimited love. (no. 5)

But care for the migrant si not complete by providing him/her with basic necessities for life. The Christian must also speak out on behalf of the migrant:

Christians will have to raise their voice on behalf of all the poor of the world, proposing the Jubilee as an appropriate time to give thought, among other things, to reducing substantially, if not canceling outright, the international debt which seriously threatens the future of many nations’ (n. 51). This is one of the aspects which most directly link migration with the Jubilee, not only because migration is more intense in these countries, but especially because the Jubilee, in offering a vision of the earth’s goods that condemns the exclusive possession of them (cf. Lv 25:23), leads the believer to open himself to the poor and the stranger. (1999, no. 8)

Another vitally important service rendered by the Christian in service to the migrant is evanglization, especially if that migrant is a non-Christian. Charity and evangelization cannot be divorced in authentic Christian love:

The Church’s commitment to migrants and refugees cannot be reduced merely to organizing structures of hospitality and solidarity. This attitude would impoverish the riches of the ecclesial vocation, called in the first place to transmit the faith, which “is strengthened when it is given to others” (Redemptoris missio, n. 2). At the end of our life we will be judged on love, on the acts of charity we have done to the “least” of our brothers and sisters (cf. Mt 25:31-45), but also on the courage and fidelity with which we have witnessed to Christ. In the Gospel he said: “So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 10:32-33).

In imitation of Jesus and the Apostles, who follow up the preaching of the kingdom by concrete signs of its fulfilment (Acts 1:1; Mk 6:30), the Christian evangelizes by words and deeds, both the fruit of faith in Christ. Actions, in fact, are his “active faith”, while words are his “eloquent faith”. Since there is no evangelization without, in consequence, charitable actions, there is no authentic charity without the spirit of the Gospel: they are two intimately linked aspects. (1997, no. 3)

The Christian cannot fail to act. The injustices committed against migrants are far-reaching, and to sit idly while passing the duty and work for justice to others is a thoroughly worldly and unfaithful Christian habit:

In their everyday relationships, believers are called to show the face of a Church which is open to everyone, attentive to social realities and to whatever enables the human person to affirm his dignity. In particular, Christians, conscious of the heavenly Father’s love, will heighten their concern for migrants, in order to develop a sincere and respectful dialogue aimed at building the ‘civilization of love’. (1999, no. 9)

Aware of being the place where people must be able “to see Jesus” and experience his love, the Church fulfils her mission by striving to offer, in the logic of the Cross, an ever more convincing witness of the gratuitous, unlimited love of the Redeemer, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).

To each I renew the invitation to intensify communion with Jesus and, through charity, to make faith in him active (cf. Gal 5:6), with particular openness of spirit to those who are in need and difficulty. Thus the proclamation of the Gospel will be more eloquent and an ever living message of hope and love to the men and women of every age.

With these wishes I cordially impart a special Apostolic Blessing to migrants and refugees, and to all those who in love assume the burden of their difficult plight. (no. 5)

Let us embrace our migrant brothers and sisters, working for justice and peace in an age when immigration is too commonly viewed only through an economic or legal lense. The forgetfulness of the poor among Christians–the forgetfulness of Christ–is simply inexcusable. The Catholic Church’s history is full of unconventional, unpredictable acts of mercy and love toward the poor, exemplified by the likes of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Vincent de Paul, Blessed Mother Teresa, and Servant of God Dorothy Day. There is a precedent set for Catholics. Let us follow the way of love.


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