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Background: Pope’s message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees

January 14, 2013

On January 13, the Church observed the 99th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, a commemoration instituted by St. Pius X. Pope Benedict’s message for the day, issued in October 2012, was entitled “Migrations: Pilgrimage of Faith and Hope.”

The Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People’s 2004 instruction Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi offered an historical overview of the Magisterium's solicitude for migrants and refugees:

The migrations of the last century represented a challenge to the pastoral care of the Church, which was organised on the basis of stable territorial parishes. Previously members of the clergy had accompanied groups setting off abroad to colonise new lands, but from the middle of the 19th century on, the pastoral care of migrants was entrusted more and more frequently to missionary Congregations.

Then in 1914 the Decree Ethnografica studia dealt for the first time with the question of clergy involved in the care of migrants. It stressed the responsibility of the local Church to assist immigrants and suggested that the local clergy be given specific preparation for this, linguistically, culturally and pastorally.

The impetus behind the Church’s efforts can be found

in the memorandum Pro emigratis catholicis of Blessed Giovanni Battista Scalabrini who, aware of the difficulties that various European nationalist tendencies stirred up abroad, proposed to the Holy See a Pontifical Congregation (or Commission) for all Catholic emigrants. This Commission should be composed of representatives of different nations for the purpose of “spiritual assistance of emigrants in varied circumstances and in various stages of the phenomemon, especially in the Americas, to thus keep the Catholic faith alive in their hearts.”

Little by little his intuition took shape. In 1912, following the reform of the Roman Curia by Pope St Pius X, the first Office for Migration Problems was set up within the Consistorial Congregation.

Venerable Pius XII’s 1952 apostolic constitution Exsul Familia is sometimes referred to as the Magna Carta of Catholic teaching on migration.


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