The first day of the training course for religious sisters “Free to choose whether to migrate or to stay”. Pastoral care with migrants and refugees was held today, both online and in presence. The course is organized by the Scalabrini International Migration Institute (SIMI) and the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), and promoted by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

We share the opening address by Fr. Aldo Skoda. Together with him, Sister Mary John Kudiyiruppil, SSpS, Associate Executive Secretary of UISG

Dear course participants, thank you for your presence on these days of dialogue and training around such a topical and important issue as migration. The phenomenon of migration is characterised by extreme complexity and at the same time great sensitivity. The foreigner in our closed societies often brings out fear that turns into indifference or intolerance. The challenge the church has, is to bring out the opportunities that the encounter with the other brings and to make the intercultural dimension the way to live the catholicity of the church. In this way our communities are called to live the dimension of fraternity and solidarity as the evangelical way, and to discover in the other, even if different from me in terms of origin, language, culture and even religion, a brother, a sister.

Faced with the great and current migration phenomenon, theology has tried to reflect bearing in mind two premises that are the substratum of any intervention of the church, “expert in humanity”, in favour of people on the move. First, the centrality and priority of human dignity in the migratory experience effectively expressed through the promotion of human rights; secondly, the awareness that migrants and their families require special attention precisely because of their situation in the host country as they face social, cultural, relational, economical, and sometimes even religious barriers and difficulties. In many societies, migrants and refugees often do not enjoy the favour of public opinion, they do not always have the attention of institutions and politicians frequently manipulate their situation. This is why we must constantly bear in mind that despite a due social analysis of the phenomenon, we must not lose sight of the centrality of the person and the reference to a Christian anthropology.

The theme proposed this year for World Migrant and Refugee Day is ‘Free to choose whether to migrate or to stay’. Embedded in the theme is a reminder of the dual right to live in one’s own land and the right to migrate freely. Pope Francis, in his message, tells us that “Migrating should always be a free choice, but in fact in many cases, even today, it is not”. There are many causes that today force millions of women, men and even children to leave their homes in search of a dignified and safe life: “Persecution, wars, weather phenomena and misery are among the most visible causes of contemporary forced migration”.

Faced with these great challenges we often seem powerless. In his message, the Pope instead calls for that common sense of responsibility and solidarity that must lead everyone not only to ask themselves what can be done, but also to commit themselves concretely. This means committing ourselves to stopping everything that contributes to devastating and impoverishing our common home, our societies and our communities. It also means “guaranteeing everyone an equal share in the common good, respect for fundamental rights and access to integral human development”. Only then will the choice to migrate be truly free, because it will have offered everyone the possibility of personal fulfillment and a dignified life.

Everyone, in various capacities, must feel co-responsible in facing the causes and consequences of migration processes: international and national institutions, civil society, local communities, and even individuals. And let us not forget the role of Christian communities, which can be a true school and laboratory of welcoming, protection, promotion and integration.

Migrations become the place of witness and prophecy. Of witnessing insofar as the responsibility of taking on the sufferings and hopes of migrants and refugees is the concrete way of living the incarnated gospel in the existential peripheries; it is the place of prophecy insofar as one is not mere spectator but protagonist in the construction of the Heavenly Jerusalem which is an open, respectful of human dignity, and reconciled community.

It is a matter of activating those dynamics of communion and co-responsibility of the entire community in the promotion and design of good pastoral practices, where the participative and intercultural aspect is favoured. For this to happen, it is first of all necessary to raise awareness and also to train skills. And these are precisely the objectives of these days. Raising awareness first and foremost through various approaches to migration issues and at the same time stimulating skills to be able not only to read contexts but also to operate in them.

The Scalabrini International Migration Institute (SIMI) has been dedicated for twenty years to the preparation, updating and ongoing training of the competences related to the theological-pastoral dimension of those involved in the front line of human mobility in its concrete forms. Through an interdisciplinary itinerary aimed at understanding the phenomenon of human mobility, SIMI acts as a point of confrontation and dialogue between theological and pastoral disciplines and the human sciences in general, with education to a vision of peoples, societies, cultures and religions as “open” spaces of participation and dialogue.

Among the many training and awareness-raising activities, one deserves special attention. Since 2011, the Diploma in Pastoral Care of Human Mobility, a one-year online training programme, has provided more than 800 students and professionals from around the world with a scientific theological-pastoral understanding of the complexity of forms of human mobility and enabled them to develop action plans to build communities capable of welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating.

The migratory flows of our times – Pope says, – are the expression of a complex and varied phenomenon that, to be properly understood, requires a careful analysis of every aspect of its different stages, from departure to arrival, including the possibility of return’.

All this is to highlight today the importance of training, of lifelong learning, in the accompaniment of migrants, refugees, internally displaced persons, victims of trafficking and seafarers.

Special thanks goes to the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, which not only hosted us in these locations and facilitated the technical aspects of the online transmission, but also promoted this initiative. I would also like to thank the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), which as a partner of these training days facilitated the organisation and dissemination of information to the vast network of congregations.

I would also like to express my special thanks to all the speakers who will be taking part in these days. Their acknowledged expertise in dealing with migration issues with diverse approaches will help us to offer the broadest and most in-depth view of the topics discussed. At the same time we also wanted to highlight some concrete experiences and testimonies to say that promoting and building welcoming communities is possible.

I wish and hope that these days will be an opportunity for knowledge, dialogue and formation on a topical issue that is re-shaping the face of our communities.

I wish the best for these training days and thanks again to all.