24 September 2023 | Message


Saint John Lateran

Dear brothers and sisters!

The migratory flows of our times 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. As a contribution to this effort, I have chosen to devote the
Message for the 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees to the freedom that
should always mark the decision to leave one’s native land.
“Free to leave, free to stay” was the title of an initiative of solidarity promoted
several years ago by the Italian Episcopal Conference as a concrete response to
the challenges posed by contemporary migration movements. From attentive
listening to the Particular Churches, I have come to see that ensuring that that
freedom is a widely shared pastoral concern.
“An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said: ‘Get up, take the
child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for
Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Mt 2:13). The flight of
the Holy Family into Egypt was not the result of a free decision, nor were many
of the migrations that marked the history of the people of Israel. The decision to
migrate should always be free, yet in many cases, even in our day, it is not.
Conflicts, natural disasters, or more simply the impossibility of living a dignified
and prosperous life in one’s native land is forcing millions of persons to leave.
Already in 2003, Saint John Paul II stated that “as regards migrants and
refugees, building conditions of peace means in practice being seriously
committed to safeguarding first of all the right not to emigrate, that is, the right
to live in peace and dignity in one’s own country” (Message for the 90th World
Day of Migrants and Refugees, 3).
“They took their livestock and the goods that they had acquired in the land of
Canaan, and they came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him” (Gen
46:6). A grave famine forced Jacob and his entire family to seek refuge in Egypt,
where his son Joseph ensured their survival. Persecutions, wars, atmospheric
phenomena and dire poverty are among the most visible causes of forced
migrations today. Migrants flee because of poverty, fear or desperation.
Eliminating these causes and thus putting an end to forced migration calls for
shared commitment on the part of all, in accordance with the responsibilities of
each. This commitment begins with asking what we can do, but also what we
need to stop doing. We need to make every effort to halt the arms race,
economic colonialism, the plundering of other people’s resources and the
devastation of our common home.
“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell
their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need”
(Acts 2:44-45). The ideal of the first Christian community seems so distant from
today’s reality! To make migration a choice that is truly free, efforts must be
made to ensure to everyone an equal share in the common good, respect for his
or her fundamental rights, and access to an integral human development. Only
in this way will we be able to offer to each person the possibility of a dignified
and fulfilling life, whether individually or within families. Clearly, the principal
responsibility falls to the countries of origin and their leaders, who are called to
practice a good politics – one that is transparent, honest, farsighted and at the
service of all, especially those most vulnerable. At the same time, they must be
empowered to do this, without finding themselves robbed of their natural and
human resources and without outside interference aimed at serving the interests
of a few. Where circumstances make possible a decision either to migrate or to
stay, there is a need to ensure that the decision be well informed and carefully
considered, in order to avoid great numbers of men, women and children falling
victim to perilous illusions or unscrupulous traffickers.
“In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property” (Lev
25:13). For the people of Israel, the celebration of the jubilee year represented
an act of collective justice: “everyone was allowed to return to their original
situation, with the cancellation of all debts, restoration of the land, and an
opportunity once more to enjoy the freedom proper to the members of the
People of God” (Catechesis, 10 February 2016). As we approach the Holy Year of
2025, we do well to remember this aspect of the jubilee celebrations. Joint
efforts are needed by individual countries and the international community to
ensure that all enjoy the right not to be forced to emigrate, in other words, the
chance to live in peace and with dignity in one’s own country. This right has yet
to be codified, but it is one of fundamental importance, and its protection must
be seen as a shared responsibility on the part of all States with respect to a
common good that transcends national borders. Indeed, since the world’s
resources are not unlimited, the development of the economically poorer
countries depends on the capacity for sharing that we can manage to generate
among all countries. Until this right is guaranteed – and here we are speaking of
a long process – many people will still have to emigrate in order to seek a better

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me
something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and
you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and
you visited me” (Mt 25:35-36). These words are a constant admonition to see in
the migrant not simply a brother or sister in difficulty, but Christ himself, who
knocks at our door. Consequently, even as we work to ensure that in every case
migration is the fruit of a free decision, we are called to show maximum respect
for the dignity of each migrant; this entails accompanying and managing waves
of migration as best we can, constructing bridges and not walls, expanding
channels for a safe and regular migration. In whatever place we decide to build
our future, in the country of our birth or elsewhere, the important thing is that
there always be a community ready to welcome, protect, promote and integrate
everyone, without distinctions and without excluding anyone.
The synodal path that we have undertaken as a Church leads us to see in those
who are most vulnerable – among whom are many migrants and refugees –
special companions on our way, to be loved and cared for as brothers and
sisters. Only by walking together will we be able to go far and reach the common
goal of our journey.
Rome, Saint John Lateran, 11 May 2023