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96th World Day of Migrants and Refugees

Sunday .. January 2010

Minor migrants and refugees

Pope Benedict XVI's Message
- in English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese,Spanish

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The celebration of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees once again gives me the opportunity to express the Church's constant concern for those who, in different ways, experience a life of emigration. This is a phenomenon which, as I wrote in the Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, upsets us due to the number of people involved and the social, economic, political, cultural and religious problems it raises on account of the dramatic challenges it poses to both national and international communities. The migrant is a human person who possesses fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected by everyone and in every circumstance (cf. n. 62). This year's theme – “Minor migrants and refugees” – touches an aspect that Christians view with great attention, remembering the warning of Christ who at the Last Judgement will consider as directed to himself everything that has been done or denied “to one of the least of these” (cf. Mt 25:40, 45). And how can one fail to consider migrant and refugee minors as also being among the “least”? As a child, Jesus himself experienced migration for, as the Gospel recounts, in order to flee the threats of Herod, he had to seek refuge in Egypt together with Joseph and Mary (cf Mt 2, 14).

While the Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly states that the best interests of the minor shall always be safeguarded (cf. Art. 3, 1), recognizing his or her fundamental human rights as equal to the rights of adults, unfortunately this does not always happen in practice. Although there is increasing public awareness of the need for immediate and incisive action to protect minors, nevertheless, many are left to themselves and, in various ways, face the risk of exploitation. My venerable Predecessor, John Paul II, voiced the dramatic situation in which they live in the Message he addressed to the Secretary General of the United Nations on 22 September 1990, on the occasion of the World Summit for Children. “I am a witness of the heart-breaking plight of millions of children on every continent. They are most vulnerable, because they are least able to make their voice heard” (L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, 1 Oct 1990, p 13). I warmly hope that proper attention will be given to minor migrants who need a social environment that permits and fosters their physical, cultural, spiritual and moral development. Living in a foreign land without effective points of reference generates countless and sometimes serious hardships and difficulties for them, especially those deprived of the support of their family.

A typical aspect of the migration of minors is the situation of children born in the host country or of those who do not live with their parents,  who emigrated after their birth, but join them later. These adolescents belong to two cultures with all the advantages and problems attached to their dual background, a condition that can nevertheless offer them the opportunity to experience the wealth of an encounter between different cultural traditions. It is important that these young people be given the possibility of attending school and subsequently of being integrated into the world of work, and that their social integration be facilitated by appropriate educational and social structures. It should never be forgotten that adolescence constitutes a fundamental phase for the formation of human beings.

A particular category of minors is that of refugees seeking asylum, who,  for various reasons, are fleeing their own country, where they are not given adequate protection. Statistics show that their numbers are increasing. This is therefore a phenomenon that calls for careful evaluation and coordinated action by implementing appropriate measures of prevention, protection and welcome, as set forth in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (cf. Art. 22).

I now turn in particular to parishes and to the many Catholic associations which, imbued with a spirit of faith and charity, take pains to meet the needs of these brothers and sisters of ours. While I express gratitude for all that is being done with great generosity, I would like to invite all Christians to become aware of the social and pastoral challenges posed by migrant and refugee minors. Jesus' words resound in our hearts: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35), as, likewise, the central commandment he left us: to love God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind, but together with love of neighbour (cf. Mt 22:37-39). This leads us to consider that any of our concrete interventions must first be nurtured by faith in the action of grace and divine Providence. In this way also hospitality and solidarity to strangers, especially if they are children, become a proclamation of the Gospel of solidarity. The Church proclaims this when she opens her arms and strives to have the rights of migrants and refugees respected, moving the leaders of Nations, and those in charge of international organizations and institutions to promote opportune initiatives for their support. May the Blessed Virgin Mary watch over us all and help us to understand the difficulties faced by those who are far from their homeland. I assure all those who are involved in the vast world of migrants and refugees of my prayers and cordially impart to them the Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 16 October 2009
Feast of St Margaret Mary Alacoque


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