Vatican City, 24 September 2013 (VIS) – In a press conference held in the Holy See Press Office this morning, Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, along with Archbishop Joseph Kalathiparambil and Fr. Gabriele F. Bentoglio, presented the Holy Father's message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which will be celebrated on 19 January 2014, focusing on the theme of “Migrants and Refugees: towards a better world”.
Cardinal Veglio explained that the first message from Pope Francis for this day centres on the concept of a better world, a concept that should be considered in the context of the phenomenon of globalisation, with its positive and negative elements. Against this background, he outlines the phenomenon of human mobility that Francis, quoting Benedict XVI, defines as “a sign of the times”. “It would appear appropriate at this time to recall that the phenomenon of human mobility is striking precisely because of the multitude of people affected. According to statistics published by the United Nations at the beginning of September, 232 million people live outside their nation of origin. Furthermore, 740 million are internal migrants, those who move within the territory of their own country. In total, it is estimated that around a billion human beings experience migration. With reference to the whole of humanity, these statistics would indicate that around a seventh of the world population is affected by migration, and as a consequence, one person in seven is a migrant”.
“However, in spite of difficulties and dramatic situations, migration is an invitation to imagine a different future, in which we glimpse the creation of a 'better world'. … It is an invitation aimed at the development of all humanity, including each person with his or her own spiritual and cultural potential'. … If we accept that culture is an entirety of spiritual, existential and intellectual aspects that distinguish a society, including also ways of life, fundamental rights, value systems, traditions and beliefs, then it will be possible to confirm that the whole of human existence is permeated by attitudes of encounter and welcome”.
Archbishop Kalathiparambil continued by taking up the theme of reintegration of migrants, emphasising that “no-one can remain in an emergency situation, such as a refugee camp, on a long-term basis”. He also referred to the increase in cases of refugees who settle in urban areas and who are therefore more difficult to identify and help. To face this problem, innovative methods are being developed, including communication via text messages on the distribution of benefits, internet connection, the production of films on refugees' rights, telephone helplines to provide information and the opportunity to obtain credit cards enabling financial assistance. “This is all currently happening in the Middle East, where Syrian refugees are living in refugee camps and, in most cases, in urban areas”.
“On the one hand, this is about ensuring a limit to human suffering, and on the other, to protecting and promoting a dignified life, at the same time offering adequate structures, stability and hope for the future. It must be said that there has been an increase in international minimum standards, for instance in relation to availability of foodstuffs, shelter, education, healthcare, detention and repatriation. Besides, these international standards are of a qualitative nature and are therefore universal and applicable in any context”.
However, the welcome offered to refugees also presents some very important problems. “Some countries are making great sacrifices to face this phenomenon. For example, more than two million refugees now live in those countries bordering Syria, while in Europe, especially in Sweden and Germany, fifty thousand Syrian refugees seek asylum. For decades millions of refugees, mostly Afghan, have been settling in Pakistan and in Iran, and of course many refugees are reaching other countries, such as Ethiopia, South Sudan and Kenya. Initially, it was expected that the responsibility for these refugees would be shared. Instead, this aspect has not been considered in the agreements, and similarly it is not known what will happen to the refugees during and after their request for asylum. As a consequence, for many years the countries who have received refugees have been able to count only on themselves”.
Fr. Bentoglio concluded the presentation by summarising the history of World Day for Migrants and Refugees, instituted during the pontificate of Benedict XV and celebrated the first time on 21 February 1915. Intended initially for the Italian dioceses and later for those frequented by Italian immigrants in America, it acquired a universal nature with the Apostolic Constitution Exsul Familia promulgated in 1952 by Pius XII, which recommended the activation of adequate support structures to assist migratory pastoral activity; it also calls for “solidarity”. From the 1970s onwards “the ecclesiological vision of the Vatican Council II is mirrored also in migratory pastoral care … the migrant emerges as a person and as a citizen with rights and duties and, first as a beneficiary of works of Christian charity, the migrant becomes a subject of evangelisation, agent of God's providential plan for the edifying encounter between peoples and the diffusion of the Gospel. Finally, we again uphold the tradition that the Holy Father himself signs the annual message for this Day, which reaches out to all the Catholic Church, including migrants and refugees. It is clearly understood that this is a special occasion for offering a biblical-theological approach to the pastoral care of human mobility, which finds its apex in Jesus the Saviour, a foreigner in the world of men, who continues his work of salvation through the foreigners of today, migrants and refugees”.