A Church “on the way”

Congress of Italian Catholic Missions in Europe. The key words of the Council: to know, to accompany, to serve and to protect

A true “outgoing Church” that keeps pace with the changes of the present era: Msgr. Guerino Di Tora, president of the Bishops’ Commission for Migration and of the Migrantes Foundation, views the service offered by the Italian Catholic Missions abroad within the goals of the Council and at the heart of the ecclesial vision of Pope Francis, at a time when the same ICM is going through a phase of “reflection”. The conference “Italian emigrants and the Churches in Europe is held in Brescia (Oct. 12-16), 50 years after the Second Vatican Council, promoted by Migrantes, at the presence of 200 missionaries and Italian operators of the Missions from all corners the continent. Mobility changes. Msgr. Di Tora, not surprisingly, said it is “a moment of shared and participated reflection”, a time when migratory flows – within Europe and in extra-EU countries – increase and change directions, posing new challenges for the reception and integration in the countries and the Churches of arrival. Ten years have passed since the last international conference of Italian Catholic Missions, “a long period of time during which many things have changed”, the bishop said. “Human mobility as a whole has changed, notably in Italy”. “In a world on the way Italians follow the flow”: in fact, increasing numbers of Italian citizens are relocating abroad for reasons linked to the economic crisis. Today, pastoral mobility “requires attention to the integral human person, for full and wholesome human dignity”, as recalled by Pope Francis in the Message for the World Day of Migrants of January 17th. “We should never forget – added bishop Di Tora – that the experience of faith of Italian people, even in the forms of popular piety, has contributed to identity-creation, helping to bridge closures, ghettos or hybrids. Faith has thus become the driving force of integration”. This reflection could be extended to the presence of migrants and refugees arriving to Europe from other continents today, with their wealth of cultures, traditions and different religious faiths. “Foreignness” is a grace. The program of the conference in Brescia envisages lectures, panel discussions and three pilgrimages: to Sotto il Monte, the birthplace of Pope John XXIII, Concesio, the birthplace of Paul VI, and Nigoline, the homeland of Bishop Geremia Bonomelli, with a concelebration officiated by the General Secretary of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Msgr. Nunzio Galantino. In his speech on “Walking together: Council, post-Council and migrations”, Msgr.Giancarlo Perego, director general of Migrantes, retraced the content of Church teaching, focusing especially on the Council documents and those that ensued, from Pope Paul VI to Pope Francis. Msgr. Perego, recalled four key-concepts that have emerged from the Council on migration: to know, to accompany, to serve and to protect. In his speech the prelate broached problems related to the pastoral care of migrants, both by the communities of departure and in the Missions abroad, and, finally, in receiving communities. “Migration is a sign of the times, an authentic evocation of Gospel charity, translated into welcome and solidarity, aimed at the common good”. But for Msgr. Perego, the phenomenon of migration, whose specific problematic aspects cannot be ignored, “more than a change in structures requires a change in the modus operandi on the part of the Christian community”. In the pastoral care of migrants we ought to “leave room to meetings that reshape traditions, places and tools for ecclesial participation, following the style of the Synod,” whereby “foreignness is viewed as a grace, a sign for the Church’s journey”. Looking ahead. The “Catholic Mission of Italian language abroad” currently has 366 missions in 39 countries located across 5 continents. There are 670 workers dedicated to the service of Italians (including consecrated and non-consecrated lay people, diocesan and religious priests as well as nuns) operating in new territories such as Hong Kong, Finland, Kazakhstan. Father Gianni Borin, Provincial of the Scalabrinian missionaries in Europe, outlined two challenges. First, “the drastic decline in priestly vocations” directed at this service and, secondly, the different approach of the local Churches, of arrival and departure, compared to the same Catholic Missions present locally. These questions prompt reflections on the future, “as long as this is done in full respect of historical background” and building on the experience gained in the field by the same missionaries.

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