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Background: World Day of Migrants and Refugees

September 25, 2021

On September 26, the Church observes the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, a commemoration instituted by St. Pius X. Pope Francis’s message for the day, written on May 3, is entitled “Towards an Ever Wider ‘We.’

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has also issued a statement for National Migration Week, which concludes with the World Day.

The Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People’s 2004 instruction Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi [The Love of Christ toward Migrants] 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 organized on the basis of stable territorial parishes. Previously members of the clergy had accompanied groups setting off abroad to colonize 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 phenomenon, 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.

Since 2017, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development has been the body of the Roman Curia responsible for migration-related issues. The Migrants & Refugees Section, led by Cardinal Michael Czerny, SJ, “helps the Church to accompany refugees, those who are forced to migrate, or victims of human trafficking.”

Venerable Pius XII’s 1952 apostolic constitution Exsul Familia Nazarethena [The émigré Holy Family of Nazareth] is sometimes referred to as the Magna Carta of Catholic teaching on migration. The messages for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees issued by St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis are found on the Vatican website.


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