What Can We Do for Migrants?

Archbishop Vegliò's Address to Conference of US Bishops

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WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 31, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is an excerpt of the opening address that Archbishop Antonio Maria Vegliò, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, will give Wednesday at the Regional Consultation on Migration of the U.S. episcopal conference, to be held June 2-4 in Washington, D.C.



The theme of the conference will be "Renewing Hope, Seeking Justice."

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But what can I do for you?

I am grateful for having the opportunity to speak during this Conference. It will be done with a different accent, an Italian one and most probably with a Vatican undertone. However, the USA is used to hearing different accents. It is part of its characteristics as a melting pot.

To accompany people who were forced to move and are now far from home is highly demanding. It demands to remain sensitive and alert to their situation. Many priests, religious, and lay people are engaged in this challenging apostolate. I would like to acknowledge their work and I want to express my gratitude for their commitment, dedication and professionalism.

1. Introduction: Everyone has a face

Migration is from every time. The causes are different and can be socio-economic, conflicts or persecution and human rights violations. It results in voluntary and forced migration. Migrants and refugees. In addition, we are encountering climate induced displacement and people who get trafficked. The result is that people move from their homes, and end up elsewhere. This can be in their own country or abroad. It also leads to individual suffering.

This has already been described in 1939 by Erich Maria Remarque. He wrote about the fate of refugees from Germany who were not welcome in neighbouring countries. Kern, the main person in a book[1], is arrested and ends up in a Swiss court.

Next morning Kern was brought before the District Court. The judge was a stout middle-aged man with a round red face. He was humane, but he could not help Kern. The law was clear: "It is my duty to sentence you. The minimum punishment is fourteen days in prison. That is the law. We have to protect our country from being flooded with refugees".

Kern answered: "What is there for us to do except break the law?"

The judge was silent for a while: "Hasn't the League of Nations done anything for you yet? "But you'll have to get papers of some sort," he said finally. "After all there are many thousands of you; and you have to be allowed to live somehow".

Kern replied: "Each country is trying to dump us on some other country. And so in all probability it will go on for a number of years."...

"But my God"! said the judge suddenly and helplessly in his soft, broad Swiss dialect. "That's a terrific problem. What's to become of all of you"?

"I do not know. The more important thing is: What is to happen to me now?"

The judge ran his hand over his face and looked at Kern. "I have a son," he said, "who is just about as old as you. If I were to picture him being hunted from place to place without for no other reason than that he had been born..."

"I have a father", Kern replied. "If you were to see him...". He glanced out the window. The autumn sun was shining peacefully on an apple tree in full fruit. Out there was freedom. Out there was Ruth.

"I should like to ask you a question", the judge said a few moments later. "It has no bearing on your case. But I should like to ask it nevertheless. Do you still believe in anything at all?"

"O yes, I believe in holy egoism! In heartlessness! In lies! In hardness of heart!"

"That is what I feared. But what else could one expect?"

"That is not all" Kern replied calmly; "I also belief in kindness and comradeship, in love and helpfulness. I have run into them more often perhaps than many people who have had an easy time."

The judge got up and walked heavily around his chair to face Kern. "It is good to hear that," he murmured. "If I only knew, what I could do for you".

We are seventy years later. But that same question remains valid. If only I know what I could do for you. That should also be the fundamental question for us.

What can I do for you? And in addition also how to do it? What will be my behaviour? From which kind of inspiration will I act? What is our message of hope?

Migrants, refugees and trafficked people are persons like you and me, human beings, ordinary people. Persons who are known by names by their loved ones, whose faces are familiar to those in their neighbourhood. Persons with dreams and expectations, with fear and disappointments. There is one difference ... their circumstances are different. They have to flee their homes because of persecution, mere survival or trying to make a living for themselves and their family. Now they face certain problems which should be addressed.

The starting point for ministering to migrants, refugees, trafficked persons is to understand their situation and all its components, personal, social, economic, political in the light of God's Word and to recognize its commitment to get involved. Naturally it also has to address those factors that cause their uprootedness. In this commitment the Church is guided by the "permanent principles" of its "social doctrine [that] constitute the very heart of Catholic social teaching. These are the principles of the dignity of the human person [...] which is the foundation of all the other principles and content of the Church's social doctrine: the common good, subsidiary and solidarity".[2]

We are invited to witness His Message, a message of hope for people, body and soul, the Good News in all situations and for the whole range of life. This also means to restructure our efforts each time anew to answer adequately the new challenges.

As Pope John Paul remarked: "One can never say too often that "pastoral policies will have to be revised, so that each particular Church can offer the faithful more personalized religious care, strengthen the structures of communion and mission".[3] Pastoral care of forced migrants means welcome, respect, protection, promotion and genuine love of every person in his or her religious and cultural expressions.

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