Guest Column

Integrating Migrants into Our Communities

By Fr.  Paul Kasun OSB
February 11, 2005

One of the most fascinating documents that the Catholic Church wrote on migration appeared last year.  It explains in detail the various steps that integrate immigrants into communities all over the world.  People in Latin America, Africa, Asia or here at home can apply its message. Moreover, even though it is written for Catholics, any religious group may benefit from its research and experience.

What does it say?  First, people are moving from one place to another more than any time in the history of the world, either within their own country or to another country.  Second, people are driven to emigrate because of an imbalance of social, economic and demographic factors.  While migration is an opportunity for people to get to know each other, migrants are often oppressed and victims of brutality, either emotional or physical.

More deeply, no country can solve migration problems on its own, and the policies of countries like the U.S. who hire more police, and use pilot less airplanes to patrol the borders make things worse.  The real solution to the problem involves a new international economic order for an equitable distribution of wealth.  Those who are serious about solving the problem will work to make this a reality.

Because there is a direct relationship between the decisions of employers and the location of jobs, people have a right to emigrate in order to overcome the inequalities in economic and social development.  Moreover, public authorities also have a right to regulate the flow of migration within the context of making sure wealth is distributed equitably.

Social and pastoral workers enter into serious dialogue with immigrants, not only learning their language, but integrating with them by a conscious commitment to solidarity, service and justice.  They are cultural mediators.  Education becomes an essential part of their work to help the local population destroy their myths about immigrants.  They are bridges between different people so that everyone lives with order, legality and social security.

People in host communities are confident to welcome immigrants when they value their own identity.  They are loyal to their heritage, know the contents of their faith, rediscover their missionary calling and commit themselves to bear witness to the truth.  Cultural mediators help overcome barriers by promoting reciprocal knowledge, not thinking that they are better than the newcomers.

There are certain values that help integrate immigrants.  For example, past misunderstandings are set aside, common values are cultivated and diversity is clarified and respected.  This happens in the context of discernment.  Immigrants and hosts take a firm stand on what their beliefs require.  They are in regular dialogue with the various groups in their communities.

How does an organization operate efficiently to help integration?  A National Coordinator is particularly important who serves chaplains and missionaries, rather than the migrants themselves.  The Coordinator serves a particular language group or people of a specific country.  The Coordinator creates solidarity and is friendly.  He moderates and acts as a link between the various communities.  The role is not one of power, but of service.

Next, the establishment of pastoral and immigration study centers serves chaplains and missionaries as well.  They collate the material necessary for working out and putting into practice a pastoral strategy.  This research guides pastoral workers of all kinds who deal with migration and may have links with universities and religious groups.

The bridge linking the community of migrants to the host community is the chaplain or missionary.  They bring the migrants into full participation in the life of the diocese, the final goal of this process.  This person builds communion with the overall church leader and the leaders or priests of particular churches who perform the same pastoral work.  The missionary knows and appreciates the other culture, speaks the language, and dialogues with members in the host country.

Pastoral workers are experts in intercultural communication.  This includes safeguarding the migrantsí ethnic, cultural, linguistic and ritual identity.  It builds trust with migrants, makes pastoral activity possible, and helps bring them into dialogue with the local culture so as to respond to new demands.

Pastoral workers guide migrants.  On the one hand they avoid the creation of a cultural ghetto and on the other hand, they oppose a one-sided assimilation of migrants into the local culture.  These workers incarnate a missionary and evangelizing spirit by sharing the situation of migrants.  They have the ability to adapt and make personal contacts among migrants.  A true and authentic solidarity, however, not only includes the missionary, but the structure of the religious organization as well.

The lay faithful also have a role, particularly in the area of economics, the principal reason that draws migrants to new homes.  This includes government leaders as well as labor leaders, making laws that facilitate the reunification of migrants with their families.  A temporary workers visa program as proposed by leaders in the United States does the opposite.  Migrants need good stores, work, wages, homes, schools and the ability to participate in elections, associations, recreational activities, etc. in the host country.  This is the direction that will advance human life.

Moreover, the institution of non-ordained ministry is urgent.  These workers introduce migrants and refugees step by step into the life and culture of their host country.  The goal is full integration into civil and church life.  In this connection all members of the church have a three sided role to help immigrants:  material, intellectual and spiritual.

Churches are concerned about migrants because they desire to be authentic.  They live by a united creed, striving to be holy and universal.  They are dedicated to service.  The more focused that they are on the poorest of the poor in the world; the more they profoundly express universal religious values.  Integrating migrants into our communities is essential for a church to be called authentic.

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Padre Pable Kasun, OSB -Christ the King Priory, 1123 Road I, P.O. Box 528

Schuyler, NE  68661, USA frpaul@BenedictineMissionHouse.