Church Must Offer Maternal Love

by Pope Francis

Descriptive Title

Pope Francis Address to National Directors of Pastoral Care for Migrants 2017


At 12.15 today, in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father Francis received in audience the national Directors of pastoral care for migrants, participating in the Meeting organised by the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE), currently being held in Rome at the Bonus Pastor, from 21 to 23 September 2017.

Publisher & Date

Vatican, September 22, 2017

Dear brothers and sisters,

I greet you with joy on the occasion of your meeting, and thank the Cardinal President for the words he addressed to me on behalf of you all. I wish to thank you heartily for your abundant efforts in these recent years in aid of many brothers and sisters, migrants and refugees, who are knocking at Europe’s doors in search of a safer place and a more dignified life.

Faced with

Faced with the massive, complex and varied migratory flows that have put in crisis the migration policies adopted so far and the instruments of protection enshrined in international conventions, the Church intends to remain faithful to her mission: that of “to love Jesus Christ, to adore and love him, particularly in the poorest and most abandoned; among these are certainly migrants and refugees” (Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2015: Teachings II, 2 [2014], 200).

The maternal love of the Church towards these brothers and sisters demands to be manifested concretely at all stages of the migratory experience, from departure to journey, from arrival to return, so that all ecclesial local realities along the way are the protagonists of the single mission, each according to its own possibilities. Recognising and serving the Lord in these members of his “journeying people” is a responsibility that unites all particular Churches in the profusion of a constant, coordinated and effective effort.

Dear brothers and sisters, I do not hide my concern in the face of signs of intolerance, discrimination and xenophobia in different regions of Europe. These are often motivated by distrust and fear of each other, the other, the stranger. I am even more worried about the sad fact that our Catholic communities in Europe are not free from these reactions of defence and rejection, justified by an unspecified “moral duty” to preserve the original cultural and religious identity. The Church has spread to all continents through the “migration” of missionaries who were convinced of the universality of the message of salvation of Jesus Christ, intended for men and women of all cultures. In the history of the Church there has been no lack of temptations of exclusivity and the raising of cultural barriers, but the Holy Spirit has always helped us to overcome them, guaranteeing a constant openness to the other, considered as a concrete possibility of growth and enrichment.

The Spirit, I am sure, also helps us today to maintain a confident attitude of openness, which allows us to overcome every barrier, to overcome any wall.

In constantly listening to the particular Churches in Europe, I have perceived profound discomfort in response to the massive arrival of migrants and refugees. Such discomfort must be acknowledged and understood in the light of a historic moment marked by the economic crisis, which has left deep wounds. This discomfort has also been exacerbated by the scope and composition of migratory flows, the substantial unpreparedness of host societies and often inadequate national and Community policies. But the discomfort is also indicative of the limits of the processes of European unification, of the obstacles that the concrete application of the universality of human rights has to negotiate, and the walls against integral humanism, one of the most beautiful fruits of European civilization. And for Christians all this is to be interpreted, overcoming laicist immanentism, in the logic of the centrality of the human person created by God, and as such unique and unrepeatable.

From an exquisitely ecclesiological perspective, the arrival of so many brothers and sisters in faith offers Churches in Europe a greater opportunity to fully realize their catholicity, a constituent element of the Church we confess every Sunday in the Creed. Moreover, in recent years, many particular Churches in Europe have been enriched by the presence of Catholic migrants who have brought their devotions and their liturgical and apostolic enthusiasm.

From a missiological point of view, contemporary migratory flows constitute a new missionary “frontier”, a privileged opportunity to announce Jesus Christ and His Gospel without moving from our own environment, to concretely bear witness to the Christian faith in charity and in deep respect for other religious expressions. The encounter with migrants and refugees from other confessions and religions is a fertile ground for the development of a genuine and enriching ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

In my Message for next year’s World Migrant and Refugee Day I highlighted how the pastoral response to the challenges of contemporary migration should be articulated around four verbs: welcome, protect, promote, integrate. The verb welcome then translates into other verbs such as widening legal and safe entry routes, offering an adequate and decorous first arrangement and assuring all of a personal security and access to basic services. The verb protect is made specific in providing reliable information and certificates prior to departure, defending the fundamental rights of migrants and refugees independently of their migratory status, and watching over the most vulnerable, children. Promoting essentially means guaranteeing the conditions for integral human development of all, migrants and host peoples. The verb integrate translates into opening up spaces for intercultural encounter, favouring mutual enrichment and promoting ways of active citizenship.

In the same Message I mentioned the importance of the Global Pacts, which States have pledged to draft and approve by the end of 2018. The Migration and Refugee Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development has prepared 20 action points that local churches are invited to use, supplement and advance in their pastoral care. These points are based on “good practices” that characterise the Church’s tangible response to the needs of migrants and refugees. The same points are useful for the dialogue that various ecclesiastical institutions may have with their governments in view of Global Pacts. I invite you, dear directors, to know these points and to promote them at your Episcopal Conferences.

The same action points also conform to an articulated paradigm of the four verbs mentioned above, a paradigm that could serve as a measure of study or of verifying pastoral practices in local churches, with a view to an always timely and enriching review. May communion in reflection and action be your strength, because when you are alone, obstacles seem much larger. May your voice always be timely and prophetic, and above all may it be preceded by coherent work, inspired by the principles of Christian doctrine.

Renewing my thanks for your great commitment in the sphere of the pastoral care of migration, both complex and of burning current relevance, I assure you of my prayer. And you too, please do not forget to pray for me.

Thank you.

© Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2017

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