With refugees at heart of Pope Francis' pontificate, Vatican dicastery carries out church's outreach to them

Priests distribute Communion during an outdoor Mass in celebration of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees at Casa del Migrante shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Sept. 19, 2021. (OSV News photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

ROME (OSV News) ─ Pope Francis is one of the strongest advocates championing those forced to flee their homelands due to conflict, persecution and other adversities as he repeatedly urges "to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate" refugees and migrants, so they can live in peace and dignity.

The practical aspects of this call are carried out by the Holy See's Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, created in 2016.

"We assist those who care for migrants, refugees and victims of human trafficking as well as the internally displaced and climate displaced," Scalabrinian Father Fabio Baggio told OSV News regarding the many local churches, pastors, parish priests, bishops, and Catholic organizations and individuals the dicastery helps as it provides pastoral and practical care to the most vulnerable worldwide.

The dicastery asks a simple question of "how can we assist those in making their pastoral care effective, adequate to the real challenges posed," said Father Baggio, who is the dicastery's undersecretary for refugee, migrant and human trafficking concerns.

Father Baggio is a priest of the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo, commonly known as the Scalabrinian Fathers, founded in 1887 with a particular mission to aid migrants and refugees. The congregation works in 33 countries.

"As a missionary, residing in several countries and being exposed to different realities changed my life and my way of seeing and understanding my problems compared with the problems of many brothers and sisters who are just trying to survive, to ensure the minimum necessary for themselves and their families," the Italian priest explained.

"This kind of openness can be understood by Christians and Catholics to see others as brothers and sisters, who are, unfortunately, victims of different situations. And we have to rescue and save them exactly as a lost brother with everything we can give," he said, underscoring the papal call.

"On the other hand, I can say that this provides us with the picture of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 25, where he says: 'I was naked, I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was a foreigner,'” he continued. "Pope Francis recalls this many times and asks: 'Is it really Jesus Christ who is knocking on my door?' It's an invitation to help those in need."

"In the past year, we have been collecting all the information available from all around the world and reflecting on this scientifically and theologically. We have also developed manuals (pastoral orientations) for the local Churches aimed at providing clear criteria on how to shape the action and programs to help migrants, refugees, internally displaced people and victims of human trafficking," Father Baggio said, commenting on the dicastery's work.

"As soon as we started, we immediately had to face the massive migrations flows from Syria and Venezuela," Father Baggio added.

In the case of Syrian refugees, the dicastery coordinated closely with several Catholic relief organizations, particularly with Caritas Internationalis and International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), working in Jordan and Lebanon, where millions of Syrian refugees fled. It also assisted the bishop' conferences of South American countries to develop programs to accompany Venezuelan migrants and refugees seeking safety, especially along the routes to Chile and Argentina.

Catholics in Canada, the United States and Australia have sought advice from the dicastery on how to engage in sponsorship programs for refugees. The dicastery also has assisted Catholic organizations aiding refugees and migrants, such as Caritas Italy and the Rome-based Sant'Egidio Community, in organizing humanitarian corridors for the most vulnerable.

Most recently, various Catholic organizations, including Caritas Internationalis, ICMC and the Jesuit Refugee Service, approached the dicastery to create joint action and resource sharing to address the crisis in Ukraine, aiding those displaced inside the war-ravaged country and the millions of refugees outside.

As a fruit of these dialogues, the Catholic Response for Ukraine was established. "It is a very good model that has been developed, which can also be replicated for new humanitarian crises," Father Baggio said.

The organizations are involved in advocacy on behalf of the vulnerable, providing them with humanitarian assistance and pastoral care as well as spiritual formation, especially for the youth. Giving accurate and updated information to the media also is key.

Father Baggio emphasizes that social assistance and humanitarian aid are provided by the Catholic Church to all migrants and refugees, without distinction of nationality and religion.

"This is the expression of the spirituality of giving. It's providing aid in the name of Jesus Christ. It is not out of philanthropy. It's part of the mission of the church," he said.

"Pope Francis has repeatedly urged the Catholic Church to be like a hospital just going out into the field and healing people," he said. "Pope Francis is asking us to build bridges and overcome barriers. It is important to leave our comfort zone and reach out to others. I would like to encourage all those who have the possibility to go and see and touch directly the human tragedies that are just around the corner."

Father Baggio and other humanitarians are calling for a global governance to aid those people who are on the move, whether due to conflict, climate or economics. The sudden eruption of war in Sudan, where many have already been displaced is yet another incident pointing to the need for global governance, he said.

"It is a crisis, and it challenges us today. And we should expect more migrants, more displaced people in the forthcoming years. We need to be prepared. We cannot always be on an emergency footing," Father Baggio said.

"It's also a question of long-sided programs that should be enacted today in line with the global governance which comes as a must from everyone's commitment to care for the common home and the common family."
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Dale Gavlak writes for OSV News from Amman, Jordan.


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