General Secretariat of the Mission – January 2024

The XIX General Chapter confirmed the direction indicated by the previous Chapter regarding the development of specific pastoral commitments:

“We assume the specific pastorals according to continental priorities (cf. CA ’15, 45.3) as a reference point for the reorganization of commitments (reduction, focus, collaboration) in the Circumscriptions and on the Continents.” (CA ’22, 31)

In the discernment done in 2015, it emerged that in many cases we are, by the grace of the Lord, present at the frontiers of the mission, in line with the Comboni charism. However, often the pastoral care we carry out is generic, that is, we do more or less what is done in other contexts. The call of Evangelii gaudium, which inspired that Chapter, was a stimulus to reconsider the pastoral approach towards greater contextualization, resulting from a church going forth, attentive to particular situations and cultures, which also need to be evangelized, for an inculturation of the Gospel.

This orientation also represents an opportunity to requalify our missionary presence, in communion with local churches. On the one hand, it involves growing in the practice of insertion, starting from the knowledge of local languages and cultures, making common cause with the people, and serving so that the people emerge as protagonists of their own evangelization journey (cf. the Regeneration of Africa with Africa), in a perspective of Gospel inculturation.

On the other hand, given the excessive number of commitments – considering the availability and strength of personnel – and their fragmentation, which makes it very difficult to ensure continuity and to make coherent and shared paths, it is possible to reduce dispersion and fragmentation by focusing on continental priorities, on which there has already been a consensus for a long time. In particular, a critical analysis of these priorities reveals that they are of two different types: there are those that concern priority human groups and are therefore very evocative from a charismatic point of view, as they actualize the ad gentes dimension. Interestingly enough, these priorities are not many, and that means that it is possible to have, at a continental level, a focus that helps us overcome dispersion and fragmentation. Then there are priorities that cut across every missionary context, such as JPIC (Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation), mission promotion, or social communication and the media.

Reaffirming the orientation of specific ministries according to continental priorities, the XIX Chapter also highlighted other aspects that characterize their development. There is the aspect of synodality, hence the awareness that it is a path that cannot be undertaken alone. It requires communion with local churches, but also reflection, collaboration, and exchange at the continental level, which may include sharing specialized competences, personnel exchange, and sharing and reflection groups. (CA ’22, 33)

Then there is the aspect of ministeriality, which, besides indicating the pastoral style characterised by service and collaboration, also refers to its articulation, whereby within a specific pastoral commitment there may be various ministries that proceed from a common vision and integrate each other.

That is linked to a third aspect on which the Chapter insisted, namely integral ecology and the magisterium of Pope Francis. Indeed, when we talk about integral ecology, we do not simply refer to the environment or climate. Since everything is connected, everything is in relationship, all dimensions of reality (social, economic, cultural, ecclesial and spiritual, environmental, political, and so on) fall within the pastoral context. (CA ’22, 29-30)

Finally, the participatory and dialogical aspect of the development of specific pastoral commitments also requires openness, dialogue with religious traditions (Asian and African Traditional Relgions, Islam, local churches, etc.), in line with a mission as “prophetic dialogue.” (CA ’22, 31.7)

The development of specific pastoral commitments at the continental level is also a good opportunity for the process of reviewing formation and merging circumscriptions. The final stage of initial formation – scholasticates and IBCs – has the task, according to the Ratio Fundamentalis, of specifically promoting the missionary ministerial dimension. It is desirable that students at this formative stage can develop the necessary skills for a service in line with the Institute’s missionary priorities. As for the circumscriptions, with the tendency towards reduction and aging of personnel, it is foreseeable that there will soon be a significant contraction of missionary forces in the field. This will have considerable repercussions on the possibility of carrying out missionary reflections and deepening, innovating, and responding to new missionary challenges. However, closer communion and collaboration between circumscriptions, which in some cases may also become mergers, focused on common specific pastoral commitments, could facilitate continuous missionary regeneration and renewal even with smaller numbers of personnel and communities on a national territory.

To achieve all that, we need to be proactive and systematic. A commitment assumed by the Chapter is to:

Initiate participatory paths to accompany the development of specific pastoral care in relation to continental priorities, with particular attention to priority human groups. (CA ’22, 31.1)

Such paths should be included in provincial and continental programming as an accompanied and monitored process (CA ’22, 31.5). Obviously, depending on the given cases, these paths can have very different characteristics, also considering that the specific pastoral commitments we have chosen as priorities are not necessarily at the same level of maturity. In any case, we are not starting from scratch, but there are already various elements, practices, and tools that are part of an acquired tradition. The first step, therefore, will be to systematically and succinctly return to the point we are at with each specific pastoral commitment.

Elements of a Specific Pastoral Commitment

In outlining a summary of the state of the art of specific pastoral commtiments, some fundamental elements must be taken into account, namely:

  1. Vision. The pastoral vision indicates the horizon, or the dream, towards which a pastoral commitment is oriented. A synthetic vision does not need many words; nonetheless, it is the result of a long work based on a critical analysis of reality, a theological reflection, and pastoral discernment. The critical analysis aims at understanding reality in its complexity, using the tools of social sciences to grasp the general framework, trends, the root causes of social phenomena and their implications, underlying mentalities, and cultural assumptions. In short, it leads to a systemic vision of reality, starting from experience and moving from the descriptive and anecdotal level to the structural and comprehensive one. Theological reflection is fundamental for a reading of reality that captures the seeds of life, the presence and action of God in history. Enlightened by Scripture and the social teaching of the church, theological reflection also helps to unveil the structures of sin, which then have consequences on the lives of local communities and peoples, and to energize a community of believers towards an alternative inspired by the Kingdom of God. Pastoral discernment is fundamentally oriented towards listening to the invitations of the Holy Spirit and identifying paths to respond to those invitations. Obviouosly, it is a continuous process, unfolding step by step, as we act in response to the challenges posed by reality. From all that, gradually, a vision grows that the more mature it is, the simpler it becomes, in the sense that it better grasps the essential and the invitations of the Spirit. (cf. EG 35).
  1. Insertion. In addition to having a synthetic vision, a specific pastoral commitment needs suitable starting points to access the experience of the people, take the initiative, get involved, accompany, bear fruit, and celebrate the experience of salvation, of transfiguration of reality (EG 24). The insertion point opens the way to reach the people, to journey together with them, and it includes lifestyle, the structures available and used, the way of relating and collaborating. There can be different ways of practicing insertion within the same specific pastoral commitment, depending on the type of ministry, the characteristics of the ministers, the environmental conditions. It is possible, therefore, to give life to different models of presence within the same specific pastoral commitment in a given circumscription. For example, youth ministry can contemplate different modes of presence: in schools, in parish groups, on the streets. These are different modes of presence that help to reach different recipients and accompany them from their specific contexts.
  2. Pastoral Guidelines. Starting from experience, reflecting critically on reality, and following the invitations of the Spirit, good practices corroborated by time emerge, developing pastoral wisdom. Similarly, from experience, one also learns what does not help or hinders fruitful pastoral action. Through sharing experiences and critical reflection, to understand what works and why, it is possible to arrive at guidelines for pastoral action. This is an important step, to avoid starting from scratch each time and repeating the same mistakes, to learn from each other, to make a coherent and constructive journey together. Pastoral guidelines by themselves are general indications that then need to be contextualized and creatively applied locally. They should not be taken mechanically, as if they were a sort of magic wand, but understood critically, to be able to apply them in a circumstantial and adequate way, without forgetting that they are means and not ends in themselves.
  3. Ministerial Articulation and Structures. Within a specific pastoral commitment, there will be various ministries and pastoral agents, who will cooperate as agents of ministerial communion. To keep this ministerial richness together, it is essential that there is a pastoral coordination team, ministerial collaboration capacity, good communication, and structured moments of planning, verification, reflection, prayer, and celebration. The various ministries must dialogue with each other, interact, create synergy. The risk is to bureaucratize the path, multiplying meetings and superstructures, taking away energy and freshness from the service: the challenge is about finding a balance and always nurturing communion. At the same time, this articulation will reflect the organization of a series of pastoral structures, which, though different from each other, must create some synergy and unity in plurality. These are pastoral structures that can be both modes of insertion in the territory and centres for training, study and reflection focused on specific pastoral work with an interdisciplinary character.
  4. Synodality. A specific pastoral commitment is an ecclesial reality; it cannot be developed in isolation, on one’s own. From the Chapter’s perspective, it is a reality that also includes various levels. Insertion implies, first of all, communion with the local church, which is essential for pastoral action. But then there are also other levels, since in today’s world there are no longer truly isolated realities, but interconnection and mutual influences are felt everywhere. In our case, for example, the continental level is strategic, with the possibility of sharing, exchanging, and even collaborating between circumscriptions. Depending on the themes, there are ecclesial coordination bodies at regional or global levels, as in the case of the work of some Dicasteries.

Models of Presence

As mentioned above, there can be different modes of presence and ministerial forms within a specific pastoral commitment. There may be characterizations that vary depending on the context and situations, while sharing a general vision and common pastoral guidelines. Describing and critically understanding these models is very useful for guiding new experiences and confreres in their ministerial service, who can thus consciously benefit from the experience of those who preceded them and ensure continuity. For those starting a new presence, there is no need, so to speak, to reinvent the wheel: just discern which starting model is most suitable for the context. Awareness of working models and understanding why and under what conditions they work also constitutes considerable help in re-qualifying commitments. Living in an era of change, we often experience that the models of presence that worked well in the past are now wanting. Having new models available can be of great help in responding to new socio-cultural situations and conditions.

In describing a model of presence, the mode of insertion stands out first, meaning how to reach out to people meaningfully, considering the context, historical situation, culture, ongoing social transformations, etc. In other words, it is about finding the favourable starting point for specific pastoral service.

Secondly, it is useful to be aware of the essential elements of that model and the main activities it involves, focusing on what constitutes the distinctive particularity of that ministerial approach.

It is also necessary to have a clear understanding of the end point, the horizon towards which the service is oriented, and what are the seeds of life, or the action of the Spirit guiding along the pastoral path. This aspect is evidently the result of discernment, not an ideology or the result of a personal project. Overall, the description of the model of insertion must be able to explain the starting point, the reference points along the way, and the endpoint to aim for in the process.

To better utilize the model, it is also necessary to understand what conditions must be in place for the model to work and the skills it requires, without forgetting awareness of the major obstacles to overcome, the implicit limitations of the model, and how it can be sustained, even economically.

Of course, a model of presence will never be a fixed, crystallized reality, but it will also have its own evolution, due to the rapid changes characterizing our time. We speak then of dynamic models, in continuous evolution. For this reason, they should be periodically evaluated, updated, and reported with notes on the Spirit’s invitations that might direct it towards new forms of implementation.

An Example: Pastoral Commitment with Migrants and Refugees

Ministering to migrants and refugees (internally displaced persons and trafficking victims) is one of today’s specific pastoral commitments with a very long and articulated history. Over the course of about a century, it has achieved considerable development both in terms of content and of the methodology employed. The document Erga migrantes caritas Christi (EMCC 2004) presents a summary of this journey, moving from a sapiential reading of the migratory phenomenon, seen as one of the signs of the times, to respond to the new spiritual and pastoral needs of migrants and transform the migratory experience into a vehicle for dialogue and proclamation of the Gospel (EMCC 3).

Over the decades, historical situations have transformed, and so have ecclesial responses and reflections on pastoral practice1. Nevertheless, the document highlights a pastoral vision, guiding principles and guidelines that have found continuity, corroborated by time.2

Since 2017, with the creation of the Migrants and Refugees Section within the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, a new phase of scientific reflection and pastoral guideline development has been initiated to respond to a constantly changing reality.

This commitment’s approach is distinguished by its participatory and bottom-up nature, documenting good pastoral practices worldwide and facilitating shared reflection and exchange to arrive at general guidelines. All this without losing sight of a scientific analysis of migratory phenomena and human mobility and the Church’s social and magisterial tradition.

Various pastoral guidelines have thus been developed for various aspects of the phenomenon of mobility, such as migrants and refugees, internally displaced persons, human trafficking, and intercultural migratory pastoral care. This signifies communion in the diversity of situations and contexts and a path with a markedly synodal character.

Vision and Pastoral Guidelines

The vision of migrant and refugee pastoral care stems from an understanding of the existential experience, in different contexts and situations, of these human groups, accompanied by a critical analysis of the socio-economic structures, power dynamics, political ideologies, and cultural perspectives that form the backdrop and within which they are framed3. This results in a framework where the growing interdependence in a globalized world, socio-economic imbalances, and the push and pull factors that fuel human mobility4. Migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons often appear as victims of these dynamics, but above all, in a theological-pastoral reading, as a sign of the times and a privileged theological place of encounter with the Lord in today’s world (cf. Mt 25:35).

Migration phenomena and technological developments in communication are leading to the transformation from monocultural to multicultural societies. That is a profound social transformation, creating unprecedented and rapidly evolving situations. From all that new pastoral challenges arise: first of all, the call to new commitments to evangelization and solidarity; then that of ensuring harmonious coexistence, the result of the encounter of humanity, cultures, and different religions. An encounter that invites mutual knowledge, which is an opportunity for dialogue and communion. Such a social transformation, from a theological perspective, reveals a living presence of God in history and in the human community, as it offers providential opportunities to realize God’s plan for universal communion (EMCC 9).

In the perspective of Evangelii gaudium, which is based on conciliar ecclesiology5, the mission of God in which the church participates is that of gathering a “messianic people” (LG 9) and that entails two challenges, which are both opportunities and mission6.

On the one hand, there is the growth of ecclesial life, articulated in two dimensions: the transformation of the way of living the Catholicity of faith, inclusive of every baptized person, promoting communion without erasing cultural differences, making room to include everyone without divisions; and the call to be a truly missionary church, reaching out to those in need of help, the discarded, the marginalized, the oppressed, all people to be recognized and cared for because it is a commandment of the Lord. The gratuitousness of this care and the respect for the identity and freedom of migrants are the conditions that open up the possibility of a church that grows by attraction, not by proselytism (EG 14).

On the other hand, the church is called to foster a culture of encounter, aware that we are all in the same boat, sharing a common destiny and called to universal fraternity. All this leads to mutual enrichment and proposing an ever-greater “we,” which addresses both the church (ever more inclusive) and the human society, according to the model of the “polyhedron” (EG 236). Being like a sacrament of the unity of the human race means, indeed, promoting a fraternal society where differences coexist, integrating, enriching, and illuminating each other (cf. FT 215).

The future must be built with migrants and refugees, promoting their inclusion – starting with the most vulnerable – placing them at the centre of our shared future, unleashing their great potential – social, economic, cultural, human, and religious – aware that the presence of migrants and refugees enhances every dimension of integral human development and offers society the opportunity to become more intercultural and grow in humanity7.

For a comprehensive articulation of this pastoral vision, we refer to the reference documents at the end of this brief essay. Here we aim instead to hint at how this vision translates into pastoral practice according to guidelines that, as mentioned above, are the result of reflection on good practices developed over time worldwide.

a. Four Verbs for a Consistent Pastoral Pathway

Pastoral service always begins with the concrete, material and spiritual needs of people. Given the plight experienced by asylum seekers, refugees, migrants, and victims of trafficking, a strategy that combines four actions is required to offer the possibility of finding the peace they are seeking: welcome, protect, promote, and integrate8.

1. Welcome means expanding the possibility of legal entry, and not sending migrants and displaced persons back to places where they face persecution and violence. Concern for national security must be balanced with the protection of fundamental human rights.

2. Protect refers to the duty to recognize and safeguard the inviolable dignity of those fleeing real danger in search of asylum and security, and to prevent their exploitation.

3. Promote refers to supporting the integral human development of migrants and refugees: from access to education at all levels for children and young people, to the development of skills and talents, to meeting, dialogue, and cooperation.

4. Integrate involves full participation in the life of society, in a dynamic of mutual enrichment and fruitful collaboration for the common good and the integral human development of local communities.

For each of these guidelines, there is a broad range of best practices that concretely articulate their implementation9. And they do not only refer to civic hospitality but also have an ecclesial dimension. Thus, for example, welcoming and protecting10 do not only mean access to work, security, and health for all in the territory, including people with special needs, but also including migrants and refugees as active members of Christian communities and associations.

The role the Church is called to assume is that of a bridge between unprotected migrants and institutions, contributing to changing the narratives on migration, to overcome prejudices, manipulations, and hostile attitudes, and to support policies and good practices of hospitality. Conversion paths are needed to help host communities overcome narrow mindedness and discrimination through educational activities, spirituality, and the promotion of a culture of encounter.

Promoting and including migrants and refugees means enhancing their contribution to social transformation according to the values of the Kingdom of God. Therefore, the Church is also called to promote and support inclusive socio-economic policies (e.g. professional training, recognition of already acquired skills, learning the local language and culture, integration into the job and housing market, health services, and psycho-social support). Fundamental human rights, including the right not to migrate, are the basis of these policies.

At the same time, it is necessary to foster a culture of encounter in parishes, promoting personal encounters with migrants and refugees, valuing their subjectivity as ambassadors of peace, solidarity, and social friendship. All this requires preparation for insertion and integration into host communities.

Integration, a participatory process that arises from encounter and grows in mutual enrichment, does not mean homogenization, but building a city of God whose doors are always open and where a shared project is built for the common good, in the conviviality of diversity.

b. Involving the Youth

The Church is convinced of the importance of recognizing and involving young people as protagonists in the present time. Special attention must be given to them—in activities that implement the four verbs mentioned above—and to the second and third generations of migrants, who often live between two worlds, not without significant challenges and difficulties. Their potential to be bridges between their culture of origin and the society in which they live must be valued, as well as their ability to bring new, unprecedented elements to the construction of a more just, sustainable, and fraternal society. The transition from a monocultural to a multicultural society can be a sign of God’s living presence in history and the human community, as it offers a providential opportunity for fulfilling God’s plan for universal communion11.

c. Becoming a Synodal Church

The global phenomenon of human mobility suggests new commitments to evangelization and solidarity, for harmonious coexistence in the transition towards multicultural societies. For the Church, all this also represents an opportunity: from the perspective of faith, cultural pluralism raises the question of inculturation and the sense of belonging to the universal Church, respecting but also going beyond any particularity. An authentically synodal Church, on a faith journey, makes no distinctions between residents and guests because we are all pilgrims on this earth12. A challenge of our time is to live faith authentically in multicultural and multireligious contexts as a Church that goes forth, reaching out especially to those on the margins and the most vulnerable, walking together with them and with God, in search of unity, communion, and fraternity13. We are called to dream together, as one humanity, companions on the same journey, as sons and daughters of this same earth which is our common home, all brothers and sisters (FT 8).

In the ecclesial context, Religious congregations are invited to collaborate and, considering demographic changes within them, to avoid dispersion by following the path of intercongregational projects. Collaboration and joining together is also a testimony to the true nature of the Church in action. Thus, the path must go in the direction of involving episcopal conferences, dioceses, and parishes, working in network with various religious, public, and private institutions.

d. Guidelines for an Intercultural Pastoral Commitment

Pastoral care for migrants and refugees can only be intercultural to realize that “polyhedron” representing a society where differences coexist, integrating, enriching, and enlightening each other (FT 215). We are all in the same boat, called to universal fraternity, proposing an ever-greater “we,” which addresses both human society and the Church.

All that gives rise to four crucial challenges: within ecclesial communities, there are the challenges of inculturation and living catholicity in cultural, local, and ritual diversities. The dream is that of developing an active sense of belonging, which takes on responsibilities, participates in ecclesial life, animates the liturgy, and shares diverse religiosity and cultural expressions.

Towards society, however,there are the epochal challenges of promoting the culture of encounter and of being a missionary Church that reaches out to those in need of help, the excluded, the marginalized, the oppressed: they are to be recognized and cared for because it is a commandment of the Lord. After all, the Church does not grow by proselytism but by attraction (EG 14), and the testimony of closeness, mercy, sharing life, fraternity, charity—without expecting anything in return—can be an attractive element.

To face these four challenges, the Dicastery for Promoting Integal Human Development recommends seven pastoral guidelines:

1. Recognize and overcome fear: The negative and distorted perception of migrants and refugees, as a threat to political and economic security, leads to intolerance and xenophobia. It is necessary to help understand the phenomenon, foster a suitable environment for encounter, change the narratives and language used to talk about migration. An essential step in overcoming barriers is encounter, knowing people, their stories, the deep causes and effects of migrations. As well, it takes telling the stories of good reception and hospitality, and involving adolescents and young people, who are the most open and have more understanding attitudes.

2. Promote encounter: Catholic communities are often unprepared and disoriented due to the arrival of many migrants and refugees, who in turn have difficulty integrating into the context. Therefore, a priority is to create bridges between local communities and newcomers, with the awareness that migrations are an opportunity for encounter and cultural growth. It is necessary to prepare people for life-giving encounters, spaces for sharing experiences, celebrate cultural diversity, with specific pastoral projects for local youth and newcomers.

3. Listen and be compassionate: Unpreparedness and suspicion lead to neglecting the experiences and needs, fears, and aspirations of migrants and refugees. Christian communities are called to true listening, which is always an exercise in sympathy and empathy. The person who listens must learn to take care of those who share their life experiences, deeply wounded in the case of migrants and refugees. Therefore, it is necessary to prepare Christian communities for this service, involving young people, pastoral workers, healthcare and social workers.

4. Live our Catholicity: This is a challenge to the tendency towards pre-packaged uniformity and nationalist rhetoric. It is necessary to promote the understanding of the Church as communion in diversity, welcoming the multiplicity of cultural and religious expression as an opportunity to learn from different traditions, to appreciate the richness of Catholic spirituality and traditions. The specific pastoral care of different human groups is to be understood as the first step of a long-term integration process.

5. Consider migrants a blessing: Migrants offer a favorable opportunity to revive ecclesial life, especially where secularism and spiritual desert advance. This can happen in various forms, such as allowing Catholic migrants to make their skills and competences available or preparing them to be missionaries in the countries of arrival, witnesses of their faith, and proclaimers of the Gospel. The participation of migrants and refugees in the life of parishes, promoting intercultural parishes, innovative catechetical and pastoral programs that take into account the children and young people of the second generation, and intercultural dynamics can be promoted.

6. Carry out the evangelizing mission: Migrants and refugees of other religious confessions are often perceived as a threat to local religious and cultural identity. But their presence is, in fact, a providential opportunity to fulfill the Church’s evangelizing mission through witness and charity. Local communities and pastoral workers must be prepared for interreligious encounter and dialogue and for the joyful witness of God’s merciful love and the salvation of Jesus Christ through good reception and service.

7. Cooperate for communion: Assistance to migrants and refugees by various Catholic entities are often fragmented and uncoordinated, compromising their effectiveness and causing division and waste of resources. Instead, efforts must be coordinated, cooperation between local churches promoted (departure, transit, and arrival), ecumenical cooperation improved, starting with the design of shared pastoral care.

Comboni Models of Presence in the Italian Context

In the Italian province of the Comboni Missionaries, there are various experiences and commitments in relation to migrants. These are contextual experiences, thus very diverse from one another. However, it is possible to appreciate some common traits and models of presence in the territory. To date, there are by and large four models of presence, which may feature variations due to contextualization. These models are characterized by the mode of insertion and the ministerial entry point, their specific activities and objectives, particular challenges they must face, and sustainability considerations. Nevertheless, these models can sometimes partially overlap, especially in missionary communities engaged at various levels with migrants. They are distinguished by their structure.

1. Reception and Integration Project

This approach works well for outreach action by a church that goes beyond its own ecclesial boundaries to engage in encounters, open dialogues, and to welcome diversity. It appears in various forms, ranging from structured registered projects with significant budgets to initiatives based on simple person-to-person encounters. Generally, these projects arise in response to concrete local needs – such as first or second phase reception, intercultural encounters and dialogues, or local awareness-raising – and invitations that these situations make to the Comboni charism.

Despite their diversity, these interventions share some recurring aspects:

– Creation of a welcoming environment

– Active listening

– Sharing of spaces and time

– Proposal of educational initiatives at various levels

– Involvement of local youth and professionals

– Promotion of migrant protagonism

– Central role of collaboration with other civic, institutional, and ecclesial operators

– Construction of social networks

Common activities articulate the four general strategies of migrant pastoral care:

Welcoming: first reception structures (food, shelter, orientation) and second reception (housing and work autonomy), hospitality / temporary cohabitations, spaces for meeting and sharing.

Protecting: activation of health, psychological, and legal assistance services; support activities in times of crisis.

Promoting: various educational and training activities, from language courses to professional training, creative and expressive workshops, scholarships, and university student support; initiatives for job placement, bureaucratic assistance, territory networking, and entrepreneurship.

Integrating: local awareness and education activities, regular meetings and public events celebrating cultural diversity, arts festivals (e.g., Afrobrix: cinema, music, cuisine, material culture), intercultural workshops, liturgical and civic celebrations, recreational activities. A specific aspect of this area is the service with second-generation migrants or migrant children.

The ultimate goal of this work is to foster a culture of encounter, to build new intercultural local communities that get transformed through dialogue, exchange, mutual welcome, the construction of meaningful relationships, and by respecting the diversity, dignity, and autonomy of migrants.

Required conditions for the adoption of this model include:

– Insertion in the territory with a network of contacts and the ability to involve various actors and participants.

– Collaboration with local organizations, NGOs, public authorities, and ecclesial bodies.

– Shared spaces: Comboni houses, sometimes too large and costly, can be made available to other partners for migrant reception, with the possibility of accompaniment by elder but active missionaries. Community spaces can be opened for encounters and dialogues, like some communities do in collaboration with Arte Migrante and Malankeba! (initiatives for human and cultural encounters in collaboration with youth and local organizations).

– The interest, creativity, and dedication of missionaries committed to this ministry remain crucial.

Challenges and difficulties are an important aspect, testing the authenticity of the commitment, keeping missionaries on a path of faith and fidelity to the charism. Legislative and financial limitations can significantly affect activities, causing uncertainties, doubts, and difficulties. The demographic situation of missionaries, with a progressive reduction in available forces and capacity to accompany these initiatives, should not be overlooked. Lastly, the epochal transformations of the Italian society and of ecclesial communities challenge the relationship with the territory and the logistical and communicative ability to reach and gather dispersed participants.

Reception and integration projects vary greatly in structure, size, and necessary resources. Some interventions depend on applications and funding from various sources, while simpler ones require only spaces, connections, and good communication, along with the skills to animate, accompany, and collaborate with a wide range of local realities. A clear critical issue is the continuous renewal, not just generational, of lay animators.

2. Parish with Migrants

A second model of presence is that of the parish ad personam14, with an experience in Castel Volturno initiated in the 1990s. Such a type of parish may be provided where there is an immigrant community that persists and has turnover over time, maintaining a significant numerical presence. It aims to offer characteristic parish services, mainly referring to recent or seasonal immigrants, and those who, for various reasons, have difficulty integrating into existing territorial structures.

In the Comboni experience of Castel Volturno, the goal is to help immigrants, spiritually, pastorally, and socially, to integrate more and more into the reality they find themselves in. At the same time, it helps the Italian community to become more open to receive them and coexist.

This commitment is characterized by some fundamental strategies:

– Witnessing communion and fraternal reception as a community, always aiming for the spiritual and material well-being of the people.

– Insertion and interaction in the social realities of the territory, always seeking to create bridges of communion and fraternity, with the Gospel as the point of reference and vehicle.

– Journeying together with the local Church in a spirit of communion and sharing gifts-charisms, to build a society and a local community where harmonious interaction is lived, enriching each other, starting with the respect of diversity.

– Missionary animation of the local Church is an important part of this service. The Comboni community is available to animate parishes by proposing missionary appeals, testimonies, meetings, and missionary formation retreats with youth, always attentive to the reality of immigration. In collaboration with other missionary congregations, diocesan priests, and laypeople, a missionary centre was established to raise awareness in the entire local church on missionary, ecological, and pastoral issues. The community also welcomes young people from other parts of Italy who want to have a missionary experience as part of their human and vocational maturation.

– Special attention is given to the youth and new generations, convinced that they will carry forward initiatives of interaction, insertion, and integration. A qualifying point is the involvement and contribution of volunteers and new Italian generations.

After many years, there is a need to evolve this pastoral structure towards a pastoral approach that values belonging to different cultures and peoples. As suggested by EMCC (43), one option would be an intercultural and interethnic parish, where both the pastoral care of natives and resident foreigners in the same territory is cared for. According to this model, the traditional territorial parish becomes a privileged and stable place for intercultural experiences, even from a faith perspective, while small groups retain some autonomy.

Since 2001, the ad personam parish model has been combined with the reception and integration project model through Black&White Association and the collaboration with the diocesan Caritas Center for assisting migrants, adjacent to the parish church. The association carries out various activities, such as after-school programs, Italian language school, social tailoring, daycare; there are also various social and recreational activities. Combining the association model with the ad personam parish allows for more articulated and integrated movement in the territory and the ecclesial context, promoting more effective networking with civil society.

This experience shows how it is increasingly difficult in Europe to distinguish the boundaries between missionary animation and evangelization. Essential requirements also include good harmony and collaboration with the local church and skills in intercultural pastoral care and social ministry. Critical issues include the isolation of communities of different nationalities, degraded environments (environmental, socio-economic, etc.), and the administrative irregularity of much of the population, fragmenting the social and ecclesial fabric and hindering the formation of a “people,” of unity in diversity. The challenge is for a church called to be a sacrament of unity, overcoming divisions and barriers through dialogue and mutual welcome, where different cultural identities open up to a universal logic, without denying their positive characteristics, but putting them at the service of humanity as a whole (EMCC 34).

3. Chaplaincy of Ethnic-Cultural Groups

A third model of presence in migrant pastoral care involves missionary communities that, among other ministries, commit to accompanying groups of Catholic migrants from Africa or second-generation Italians. A similar starting point is the service in the diocesan Migrantes office, which can also be combined with short-term migrant reception in community spaces, as well as collaboration with African churches through the reception and orientation of African priests.

The church contemplates a specific pastoral commitment that takes into consideration the diversity of language, origin, ethnicity, and Christian tradition, often hindering the integration of migrants into local territorial parishes. The underlying value is that the many displacements suffered by migrants should not also include religious identity (EMCC 44). Therefore, in the presence of particularly numerous and homogeneous migrant groups, the church encourages them to maintain their specific Catholic tradition. However, all this must happen within a framework of deep communion between linguistic-cultural groups and territorial parishes, promoting mutual knowledge and involving immigrants in parish life (EMCC 50). This pastoral orientation should guide service with groups of immigrant faithful, such as those from Africa.

The service with diocesan Migrantes offices falls under the guidelines for the role of chaplain or missionary to the migrants at the diocesan level (EMCC 75-78). This role is recognized as having a genuine missionary dimension that involves reaching out to migrants. The animation service with Migrantes should also foresee the development of pastoral centres for ethnic groups, especially interdisciplinary study centres, including the study of subjects necessary for developing and implementing ministries to the migrants. These studies should also be promoted in the curricula of seminaries and pastoral training institutes or centres, and be at the core of the preparation of pastoral agents working with migrants.

What characterises this model of presence and service is, first of all, that it has the specific task of acting as a bridge, of connecting the migrant community with the host community. It requires competence in intercultural communication and has three main tasks:

= to protect the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and ritual identity of the migrant;

= to guide the path of just integration that avoids the cultural ghetto and at the same time avoids the mere assimilation of migrants into the local culture;

= to embody a missionary and evangelising spirit.

Secondly, it is very important that this service is not seen simply as an individual commitment, but as an expression of a missionary community that is welcoming, empathetic, capable of listening and dialogue, and open. In fact, it is not just a question of doing a service, but of a lifestyle, of a witness that becomes eloquent preaching, capable of impressing even non-Christians of good will (EG 69).

4. Inter-congregational Missionary Community for Ministering to Migrants

The first experience in Italy of an inter-congregational community for ministering to migrants was initiated by CIMI (Conference of Missionary Institutes Founded in Italy) in Modica (Ragusa). This is a mixed community integrated into the local community and working in partnership with the diocese, which availed a house (a former kindergarten) for the community entirely dedicated to this ministry. It is a presence of fraternity, communal life, and engagement with migrants, focused on meeting migrants where they land from the sea, showing solidarity through emergency hospitality, and raising awareness among the local population.

Among its main activities, the community offers Italian courses for North African women, boys, and young people, thanks to the collaboration with many local volunteers who accompany one or two students each, fostering mutual understanding, trust, and friendship. Additionally, the community collaborates with the diocesan Caritas and Migrantes offices, and with local organizations, in educational activities. It is open to short-term emergency hospitality and assists migrants in applying for residence permits and healthcare. The respect for different religions and the lived faith of the community also promote interreligious dialogue.

This collaborative approach is interesting for several reasons: in the first place, for the aspect of sharing and fraternity, which is fundamental to witness and hospitality, stemming from a common belonging to a missionary movement that, despite its diverse charisms, has a significant common foundation of inspiration and spirituality. Then, there is also the aspect of synodality, of sharing paths and resources, making it possible to run a project that individual congregations could not carry out alone due to their demographic trends.

Such limitations become an opportunity for new and significant pathways, compelling missionaries to renew themselves and seek the essential, in the spirit of Evangelii Gaudium. For example, one must grow in the capacity for hospitality, in openness to be challenged, and in making space for diversity. Fraternal life in community is enriching, but it also requires more commitment and openness, and collaboration skills. Therefore, it is also a challenge, and the sustainability of the experience depends on the availability of personnel assigned to this missionary community, considering the decreasing number of missionaries and their ageing.

This model is feasible when there is dialogue and communion with the local church, an agreement between missionary congregations, and a committed engagement among their members, with availability and adaptability. Established and formally adopted pastoral guidelines help ensure continuity in this ministerial approach: the point of reference are the four verbs (welcome, protect, promote, integrate) and the elements of intercultural pastoral care.


From this overview, it is evident that the pastoral commitments with migrants can have varying levels of intensity. From communities entirely dedicated to this ministry and projects with significant budgets, to limited activities with virtually zero cost, such as Arte Migrante and Malankeba!, yet equally significant. This means that this specific ministry has indeed been adopted in practice by the province. The challenge remains to create a more interconnected, less fragmented common pathway, where even small activities and initiatives assume much greater value and significance as part of a larger whole. Thus, even communities with significant personnel and demographic limitations can still participate and contribute significantly, according to their capacities, to the provincial project as a whole.

It has also been observed that the four models of presence in migrant ministry often combine and complement each other, creating synergies. The presence of well-established and shared pastoral guidelines forms a fundamental basis for the consistency and interconnectedness of these initiatives. Furthermore, from these experiences, we learn that the major epochal changes and increasing limitations experienced by missionaries can be opportunities for requalifying missionary service in the local area. Structures that have become too large and costly can provide spaces for sharing and collaboration with various other actors for the insertion or development of migrant ministry, as seen in Trento, Rebbio, or more recently, Venegono.

The limited forces available can thus allow for a simple missionary presence, an opportunity for encounter and ministerial concern without bearing the potentially unsustainable burden of complex and costly projects. Where energies are still available, sharing spaces positions the missionary community for informal accompaniment and bridging between various partners – public, civic, and ecclesial – for promoting collaboration. The reception of migrants thus becomes the starting point for a renewed local presence, fostering networks and collaborations.

There are also interesting connections between ministering to the migrants and youth ministry through initiatives like youth camps with migrants and other initiatives such as Arte Migrante, Malankeba!, and work with new generations of Italians. This connection is important given the increasing difficulty in reaching out to young people following the profound socio-cultural and ecclesial changes of recent years.

Another significant aspect is that ministry with migrants encourages and promotes synodality and mission promotion, not only among Comboni communities but also with local churches and various pastoral and missionary agents. This aspect also offers an opportunity for growth based on a rapidly changing ecclesial reality.

Finally, it is important to highlight that the presence of well-established guidelines, well-defined competencies, complementary models, networking and a collaborative style offer the possibility of systematically promoting training opportunities, both for ongoing and initial formation, to enhance the quality and continuity of service in this specific ministry. In addition to the training aspect, the communication aspect is also fundamental for a ministry that proposes new narratives of migration and human mobility. Collaboration with Nigrizia and other mass media is therefore an essential component of this ministry.

1EMCC No. 4 presents a historical perspective on the Church’s journey, touching on fundamental passages such as Exul familia (Pius XII, 1952), considered the Magna Carta of the Church’s thought on migrations; or the reading made by the Second Vatican Council (especially Gaudium et spes, 1965), the motu proprio Pastoralis migratorum cura (1969) by Paul VI, then the circular letter Church and Human Mobility of the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (1978), the contributions of Paul VI and John Paul II for the world days of migrants and refugees). Nevertheless, the document highlights a pastoral vision, reference principles, and guidelines that have found continuity, corroborated by time.

2Regarding pastoral structures, however, there has been some evolution, not least that decreed by the apostolic constitution Praedicate evangelium (2022).

3EMCC (No. 8) highlights that international migrations are an important structural component of the social, economic, and political reality of the contemporary world, and are a phenomenon that raises the ethical issue of seeking a new international economic order for a more equitable distribution of the earth’s goods.

4EMCC emphasizes that globalization has opened markets and closed borders, trying to counteract mobility factors such as demographic changes, inequalities between the North and South of the world, the proliferation of conflicts and civil wars, terrorism. Recent magisterium also highlights other factors, such as climate change and the fact that these factors are interconnected (“everything is interconnected”).

5LG 1 affirms that “the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race”.

6Cf. Guidelines for Intercultural Migrant Pastoral Care.


8Dicastero per il servizio dello sviluppo umano integrale – Sezione migranti e rifugiati. (2018). Verso i patti globali sui migranti e sui rifugiati, p. 9.

9Cf. Verso i patti globali sui migranti e rifugiati.

Dicastero per il servizio dello sviluppo umano integrale – Sezione migranti e rifugiati. (2020). Orientamenti pastorali sugli sfollati interni.
________________ (2021). Orientamenti pastorali sugli sfollati climatici.

10Cf. Dicastero per il servizio dello sviluppo umano integrale – Sezione migranti e rifugiati. (2022). Costruire il futuro con i migranti e i rifugiati.

11Cfr. Building the Future with Migrants and Refugees

12Cfr. Pastoral Orientations on Intercultural Migrant Ministry


14Cf. EMCC 91.

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