What the Catholic Church Teaches on Asylum and Migration

icon I was a stranger and you welcomed me

The Holy Family in Exile

The exiled Holy Family of Nazareth, fleeing into Egypt, is the archetype of every refugee family. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are for all times and all places, the models and protectors of every migrant, pilgrim and refugee of whatever kind who, whether compelled by fear of persecution or by want, is forced to leave his native land, his beloved parents and relatives,

his close friends, and to seek a foreign soil.[1]

For God decreed that His only Son should experience the hardship and grief of exile. The firstborn among many of our brothers and sisters, and precede them in it. [2]

For this reason, the Catholic Church seeks to look after and care for refugees and migrants in their trials and welcome the stranger who knocks at our door seeking refuge. [3]

Welcome the stranger

Jesus identifies Himself as a stranger to be welcomed (Matthew 25:35). The Catholic Church teaches that Christ has in some way united himself to every person(cf. CCC 618), whether or not one is aware of this. Christ will consider done to himself the kind of treatment that is reserved to any human person, in particular, to the least among them, the stranger (cf. EMCC 15).[4]

While the gospel compels us to welcome strangers it also presents the opportunity to practice the commandment to love God “with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength” and to love the other “as you love yourself” Mark 12:29-31.

Pope John Paul II invites us to an ever deeper awareness of the mission of the Catholic Church: “to see Christ in every brother and sister in need, to proclaim and defend the dignity of every migrant, every displaced person and every refugee. In this way, assistance given will not be considered an alms from the goodness of our heart, but an act of justice due to them”.[5]

Healing a global wound

The Catholic Church teaches that all people have the right to live a dignified life in their homeland.[6] Tragically, over 45 million people around the world are displaced.[7] This festering wound typifies and reveals the imbalances and conflicts of the modern world.[8] War, natural calamities, persecution and discrimination of every kind have deprived millions of their home, employment, family and homeland.[9]

The right to seek asylum

The Catholic Church teaches that anyone whose life is threatened has the right to protection.[10] Whether because of persecution, armed conflicts, natural disasters, or economic conditions that threaten their lives or physical integrity. It is the element of persecution, threat or danger, or being forcibly displaced that gives rise to a right to seek asylum rather than to migrate through ordinary channels.[11]

Human Dignity

The Catholic Church teaches that human life is sacred because each person is created in the image and likeness of God[12]. Human dignity is inalienable[13]. The human dignity and human rights of asylum seekers must be respected, regardless of their citizenship, visa status or mode of arrival.[14]

The Catholic Church teaches the demands of human dignity always come before the national interest[15]

Devotion to humanity

The Catholic Church teaches that all Nations have a right to regulate migration across their borders.[16] This right is coupled with the duty to protect and help innocent victims and those fleeing for their lives.[17] The right of nations to regulate their borders is an extension of the right of all persons to live a dignified life in their community. Borders are for the protection of people, not for the exclusion of people seeking protection.[18]

Justice and Mercy

The Catholic Church teaches that the purpose of the law is to serve justice and mercy (c.f. Matthew 23:23). Laws which subject asylum seekers to arbitrary and prolonged immigration detention or banish them from seeking protection, fail to uphold justice and mercy and are immoral. It is not illegal to seek asylum[19]. Many asylum seekers are survivors of crimes, torture and trauma. Indefinite detention adds further stress and suffering, impacting on their mental and physical health. The Catholic Church advocates the implementation of just and rapid procedures to determine each person’s claim for protection.

Solidarity

The Catholic Church teaches that the most vulnerable people are not simply those who are in a needy situation to whom we kindly offer an act of solidarity, but are members of our family with whom we have a duty to share the resources we have.Solidarity towards migrants and refugees is inscribed in the common membership to the human family.[20]

The right to be part of a community

The Catholic Church teaches all people have the right to be part of a community.[21] Asylum seekers who have been forced from their homeland have a duty to integrate into the host community. We must favour this integration by helping migrants to find a place where they may live in peace and safety, where they may work and take on the rights and duties that exist in the country that welcomes them.[22]

References

[1] Pope Pius XII Apostolic Constitution Exsul Familia Nazarethana (The Holy Family in Exile), 1 August 1952, Introduction.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Welcoming Christ in Refugees and Forcibly Displaced Persons, Pastoral Guidelines Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People and Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Vatican City, 2013, N 14.

[5] Ibid , 14, JOHN PAUL II, Address to the Participants in the Assembly of the Council of the ICMC, 12 November 2001, nos. 2-3: O.R., Weekly Edition in English, 21 November 2001, 4.

[6] “No one would exchange his country for a foreign land if his own afforded him the means of living a decent and happy life” (Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum [On Capital and Labor] [May 15, 1891], no. 47. Retrieved from Vatican website: www.vatican.va). Pope Pius XII Apostolic Constitution Exsul Familia Nazarethana (The Holy Family in Exile), 1 August 1952. Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) (April 11, 1963) (Washington, D.C.: USCCB, 1963), no. 25.

[7] UNHCR Global Trends Report 2012.

[8] Pope John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (On Social Concern) (December 30, 1987) (Washington, D.C.: USCCB, 1988), no. 24.

[9] Ibid

[10] Pope John Paul II, Migration with a View to Peace, Message, For the 90th World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2004.

[11] Welcoming Christ in Refugees and Forcibly Displaced Persons, Pastoral Guidelines Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People and Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Vatican City, 2013, N 61.

[12] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, 2005, n 108.

[13] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, 2005, n 105.

[14] Welcoming Christ in Refugees and Forcibly Displaced Persons, Pastoral Guidelines Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People and Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Vatican City, 2013, N 60-61.

[15]Welcoming Christ in Refugees and Forcibly Displaced Persons, Pastoral Guidelines Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People and Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Vatican City, 2013, N 14.    (cf Refugees: A Challenge to Solidarity, Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People and Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Vatican City 1992, n 9.) Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, 2005,  n 106-7.

[16] Pope Benedict XVI One Human Family, Message 97th World Day of Migrants & Refugees 2011.

[17] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, 2005, n 504-5.

[18] Welcoming Christ in Refugees and Forcibly Displaced Persons, Pastoral Guidelines Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People and Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Vatican City, 2013, N 57 and Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) (April 11, 1963) (Washington, D.C.: USCCB, 1963), no. 103-6.

[19] Pope John Paul II, Migration with a View to Peace, Message, For the 90th World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2004.

[20] Welcoming Christ in Refugees and Forcibly Displaced Persons, Pastoral Guidelines Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People and Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Vatican City, 2013, N 10.

[21] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, 2005, n 149.

[22] Pope Benedict XVI One Human Family, Message 97th World Day of Migrants & Refugees 2011.