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Vatican official discusses immigration challenges

Robert Singer | Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Speaking about the plight of migrant workers, war refugees, and religious pilgrims, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, a Vatican official on immigration, said the issue has become “an event that affects the structure of our society and comprises a problem that is a social, cultural, political, and not least, pastoral reality.”

Marchetto, who gave a lecture entitled “Immigration: Global Perspective” Tuesday, discussed the Church’s role in helping migrants adapt to their new surroundings. An aspect of pastoral care, this effort seeks to create a “culture of welcome” for people displaced by economic hardship and civil war.

Refugees fleeing countries torn by civil war face many challenges, Marchetto said.

“Civil war migration is a phenomenon that brings a lot of suffering,” he said. “You do not know the customs, the language. You are emerged in a world that is not yours, but you must find work.”

Marchetto said the bishop of the region that has an influx of immigrants is responsible for their pastoral care to ensure that their language, culture and popular devotion are respected while they adapt to new surroundings.

“It is important that there is a dialogue between the church of origin and the church of arrival, so that the integration of the migrants is going on smoothly,” Marchetto said.

As people migrate, they often leave family members behind. The Church must work to alleviate the hardship caused when a family’s caretaker or provider is separated, Marchetto said. “One of the biggest problems of the migrants is the question of the family. In many cases, there is rupture. More or less, 50 percent of the migrants are women.”

Sometimes, especially in countries suffering from civil war, tension develops when family members are forced to fight on separate sides. Marchetto said that the Church is working to peacefully reunite families – most notably in Uganda, where children have been kidnapped and trained to kill their parents.

“In Africa, the Catholic Church is playing a role to reconcile children back to their families,” Marchetto said.

Marchetto also touched on the poverty in the developing world that is causing many to migrate to more affluent countries. He called for a world in which “goods are more equally distributed” and voiced optimism that President Obama could help the economies of impoverished nations.

“This phenomenon also raises the ethical issue of the search for a new economic order,” he said. “This was raised by the new president today, and I hope that it is something that is really in his conscience.”

As the global economic downturn makes it difficult for many citizens of wealthy nations to find employment, Marchetto said anti-immigrant sentiment is rising and will pose challenges in the future.

“If there are less jobs, and the local people have to fight to have the jobs, and they find in their way other people who are not from their country, it is easy for them to have animosity,” he said. “So, this is really a point of difficulty in the future.”

But Marchetto expressed optimism about the possibility of an integrated world in which people of different cultures interact peacefully.

“Sometimes there is a fear to be surrounded by migrants, but I think it is a splendid opportunity to meet people and to see that we have the same suffering and the same joys and that we are one family,” he said.