Part of his message for World Migration Day, 1996:
The Church considers the problem of illegal migrants from the standpoint of Christ, who died to gather together the dispersed children of God (cf. Jn 11:52), to rehabilitate the marginalized and to bring close those who are distant, in order to integrate all within a communion that is not based on ethnic, cultural or social membership, but on the common desire to accept God’s word and to seek justice. “God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).
The Church acts in continuity with Christ’s mission. In particular, she asks herself how to meet the needs, while respecting the law of those persons who are not allowed to remain in a national territory. She also asks what the right to emigrate is worth without the corresponding right to immigrate. She tackles the problem of how to involve in this work of solidarity those Christian communities frequently infected by a public opinion that is often hostile to immigrants.
The first way to help these people is to listen to them in order to become acquainted with their situation, and, whatever their legal status with regard to State law, to provide them with the necessary means of subsistence.
Thus it is important to help illegal migrants to complete the necessary administrative papers to obtain a residence permit. Social and charitable institutions can make contact with the authorities in order to seek appropriate, lawful solutions to various cases. This kind of effort should be made especially on behalf of those who, after a long stay, are so deeply rooted in the local society that returning to their country of origin would be tantamount to a form of reverse emigration, with serious consequences particularly for the children.
When no solution is foreseen, these same institutions should direct those they are helping, perhaps also providing them with material assistance, either to seek acceptance in other countries, or to return to their own country
In the search for a solution to the problem of migration in general and illegal migrants in particular, the attitude of the host society has an important role to play. In this perspective, it is very important that public opinion be properly informed about the true situation in the migrants’ country of origin, about the tragedies involving them and the possible risks of returning. The poverty and misfortune with which immigrants are stricken are yet another reason for coming generously to their aid.It is necessary to guard against the rise of new forms of racism or xenophobic behavior, which attempt to make these brothers and sisters of ours scapegoats for what may be difficult local situations…
…I urge the particular Churches to encourage reflection, to issue directives and to provide information to help pastoral and social workers to act with discernment in so delicate and complex a matter.
When an understanding of the problem is conditioned by prejudice and xenophobic attitudes, the Church must not fail to speak up for brotherhood and to accompany it with acts testifying to the primacy of charity…
…In the Church no one is a stranger, and the Church is not foreign to anyone, anywhere. As a sacrament of unity and thus a sign and a binding force for the whole human race, the Church is the place where illegal immigrants are also recognized and accepted as brothers and sisters. It is the task of the various Dioceses actively to ensure that these people, who are obliged to live outside the safety net of civil society, may find a sense of brotherhood in the Christian community.
Solidarity means taking responsibility for those in trouble. For Christians, the migrant is not merely an individual to be respected in accordance with the norms established by law, but a person whose presence challenges them and whose needs become an obligation for their responsibility. “What have you done to your brother?” (cf. Gn 4:9). The answer should not be limited to what is imposed by law, but should be made in the manner of solidarity.
Man, particularly if he is weak, defenseless, driven to the margins of society, is a sacrament of Christ’s presence (cf. Mt 25:40, 45). “But this crowd, who do not know the law, are accursed” (Jn 7:49), was how the Pharisees judged those whom Jesus had helped even beyond the limits established by their precepts. Indeed, he came to seek and to save the lost (cf. Lk 19:10), to bring back the excluded, the abandoned, those rejected by society.
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35). It is the Church’s task not only to present constantly the Lord’s teaching of faith but also to indicate its appropriate application to the various situations which the changing times continue to create. Today the illegal migrant comes before us like that “stranger” in whom Jesus asks to be recognized. To welcome him and to show him solidarity is a duty of hospitality and fidelity to Christian identity itself.