By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Amid growing political ferment over immigration policy in the United States and other parts of the world, Pope Benedict XVI today urged “brotherly love to the full” for migrants and refugees, calling them “the weakest and most defenseless … marginalized and often excluded by society.”
The pope issued the call in the form of a message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, marked by the Catholic church on January 18. The message was presented today in a Vatican press conference by Italian Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Refugees, and Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the same council.
Benedict offered the example of St. Paul, the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” who, the pope said, offered “a model of a church that was not exclusive, but on the contrary open to all.”
In light of that example, Benedict XVI wrote, “how can we fail to take charge of all those, particularly refugees and displaced people, who are in conditions of difficulty or hardship?” He called for “priority attention” to people whose lives are “marked by precariousness and insecurity.”
Benedict expressed the hope that the World Day of Migrants and Refugees will be “an incentive to live brotherly love to the full without making any kind of distinction and without discrimination, in the conviction that anyone who needs us, and whom we can help, is our neighbor.”
The pope called for “solidarity to these brothers and sisters of ours” and the promotion “in every part of the world, and by every means, peaceful coexistence among different races, cultures and religions.”
“The entire Gospel message,” the pope wrote, “is condensed in love, and authentic disciples of Christ are recognized by the mutual love they bear one another and by their acceptance of all.”
During the press conference, Martino said that in a globalized world, immigration is “unstoppable,” and therefore the problems it creates cannot be solved by “closing borders” but rather by fostering what he called a “culture of welcome.”
While recognizing the right of governments to impose “just regulation” on migratory flows, Martino called for a “gradual integration” of immigrants, “respecting their cultural identity as well as that of the local population.”
Referring specifically to Europe, Martino noted that no country in Europe today has a fertility rate above what demographers call “replacement level,” meaning the birth rate required to keep a population stable. In that light, he said, if European nations such as Italy and Spain want to maintain their present levels of “development and wealth,” they will have to welcome immigrants – and that implies, Martino said, “welcoming their cultures, their families, their religions, all of it.”
At the moment, three new Vatican documents are in the works which, in one way or another, touch upon social themes:
•tThe Council for Migrants and Refugees is presently working with the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” which oversees the church’s charitable agencies, to update their joint 1992 document on migration.
•tThe Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace is preparing a new text on “Poverty in an Era of Globalization.”
•tPope Benedict XVI will shortly issue a new encyclical on the social teaching of the church.
Martino said this morning that the pope’s new social encyclical is basically finished, and he hopes that it will be published by the end of the year.