Rolling Out the Welcome Mat for Immigrants

Italian Bishops Publish Guide for "Ethnic Chaplains"

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ROME, FEB. 12, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Italy´s bishops are facing the phenomenon of immigration, head on.



"No One Is a Foreigner in the Church" is the title of a practical guide prepared by the bishops´ conference´s office for social and labor problems, to address the current challenges of immigration in the country.

The text notes that there are two radically different reactions to this phenomenon, which characterizes not only Italy but also many of the world´s developed countries: The foreigner is either marginalized or obliged to undergo "passive assimilation."

The Church in Italy is opting for a middle course: integration, which entails mutual dialogue between the one who welcomes and the one who is welcomed, exchanging cultural riches.

The document was presented at a meeting for "ethnic chaplains" held here last Friday. It includes the contribution of the two organizations in Italy with the greatest experience in welcoming and assisting immigrants: Caritas and the Episcopal Foundation for Immigrants.

The guide includes a booklet listing the pastoral centers for foreign Catholics in Italy, as well as practical information, such as the new legal norms regulating the immigration of people from countries outside the European Union.

The introduction to the document states that it is a fruit of the Jubilee Year, which impels the Church in Italy to be increasingly motivated to give "prompt and efficient service to immigrants, also in the years following the Great Jubilee."

"No One Is a Foreigner in the Church" begins with an exhortation to recall the 100 years of Italian emigration abroad. It also addresses and tries to dispel common prejudices about immigrants, including fears about "the invasion of foreigners" and the process of "Islamization."

To foster the process of integration, the bishops´ conference has appointed "ethnic coordinators" over the past year, to emphasize its concern for immigrants. The guide says the coordinators will serve "as bridges and mediators between the two Churches" -- the one in the immigrants´ native land, and the one in their new homeland.

Last Friday, John Paul II condemned xenophobia, which is evident especially in recent years in societies with a growing immigrant population. "Given the risk of ethnic confrontations," he said, "all are called to rethink social coexistence in terms of dialogue and living together."