Pontifical Council for the Pastoral
Care of Migrants and Itinerant People


Message in the Name of

H.H. the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew 

(Unofficial translation)        



Metropolitan Archbishop of Tallinn and all Estonia


Your Beatitude,

Your Eminences,

Your Excellencies,

Beloved Brothers and Sisters, Members of the Clergy and the Laity, 

I feel great joy and immense emotion to be with you as the representative of His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew in order to convey his greetings and express his best wishes for the complete success of the objectives of this Congress with its central theme, “International Students and the Encounter of Cultures. I assure you all of his immense, unfailing interest in everything that affects the future of the young people of the whole world, whoever they may be. I also wish to tell you on his behalf that reflection on life's problems is an undertaking for the whole Church and not just for its theologians and monks; that the challenges of education and the encounter of cultures cannot be tackled by simply using new technologies, new manuals, new supports or a change in work methods or programs. Because all education, and what is more spiritual education, is not just synonymous with a transmission of knowledge; it must necessarily pass through life. This requires new choices that call for new initiatives without this separating the Church's message from her life, at least as far as we are concerned, we who claim to be representatives of Christ.

Added to this, and in a very personal way, I am very pleased to see my beloved brother Archbishop Antonio Maria Vegliò again for the third time for whom I feel very great friendship. I imagine the immense work that his team and he himself have done for us to meet here in Rome and to offer us the occasion to share an experience of this kind.  For all of this I express my heartfelt gratitude.

In follow-up to the Holy Father's call for “a fruitful pastoral care of communion” on the part of the Churches, and considering that “it is obvious that the mix of nationalities and religions is growing exponentially”, as Archbishop Vegliò reminded us when he stressed the connection made by the Pope between migrations and new evangelization, allow me to propose some elements for your kind attention which I hope will be the focus of reflection and research in the framework of a very precise region, the Mediterranean, from which I myself originate through my parents.

My choice is justified all the more because last September the Orthodox Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem and the Archbishop of Cyprus met at the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Phanar to study the current consequences more closely that are raising the questions of the governance of their pluralist societies.  How, especially in the Arab world, can an innovative relation be established between the religious and the political spheres that will be a factor of progress and not regression, as well as a factor of growth for all the essential components, Christian and Muslim, in order to support the just causes of the dignity of the human person?  Also, how can the Christians of the East be encouraged to curb the progressive uprooting from their land and society by striving, with evangelical courage, to get out of the logic of a community that is sometimes withdrawn into itself and sometimes tolerated or protected? How, finally, can they, together with their fellow citizens from the other denominations, defend a space of freedom, fraternity and equality of the human person in order to give witness to Christ and to “the hope that is in us” (1 Peter 3:15), right there where the Lord invited the Christians of the East to live and act with intelligence and courage?

This particular concern for the peoples who live around this sea concurs well with the Holy Father's remarks in his October 25th message. When dealing with migrations and the new evangelization, he recommends “an intensification of her [the Church's] missionary activity both in the regions where the Gospel is proclaimed for the first time and in countries with a Christian tradition”. Now, many values have flourished over the ages precisely in the three monotheistic religions, which are Judaism, Islam and Christianity, all three of which appeared historically in the Middle East around the Mediterranean basin. And let us briefly mention that these values are faith in one God, the sacred character of the human person, and love that can go beyond all borders and all forms of discrimination through compassion, forgiveness, justice and peace. This is so true that in the Middle Ages a relatively unified Mediterranean culture already developed using a kind of reason that was close to both the Greek logos and biblical Wisdom.

It is well-known that the Mediterranean man gives in more readily to the language of friendship rather than domination and prefers a thing that is substantial and good over an industrial object. For him, the “being is relational”, as the Greek theologian and thinker Christos Yannaras likes to describe it, and also the Metropolitan of Pergamon, Jean Zizioulas, or Georges Nahas of the University of Balamand (Lebanon). He is within the communion of men with one another and with the living God.

However, this sea also risks dying through physical and moral pollution because of the inability to balance its northern shore, where people eat enough, and its southern shore, which is overpopulated and underdeveloped and where a kind of fanaticism of despair is still growing in our times. To create a pacifying equilibrium between these two shores (no offense to those who consider this utopian), visionary plans are needed animated not only by the political and cultural leaders but also and above all by the religious leaders to develop authentic, active collaboration in view of the survival of this sea which from the earliest antiquity down to our times, seems to constantly recapitulate the history of the world. One response from us in this direction could be this quotation from the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Mount Lebanon, Georges Khodr: “Christ is not an institution. He is for those who suffer a value, an act, a transformation of hearts in the sense of sweetness, simplicity, humility and Jihâd (not in its derived meaning, which designates war, but essentially, uniquely in its initial meaning which means effort, inner struggle”. Let me quote to you here from a reflection of the great mystic poet of the Turkish language, Yunus Emre (thirteenth-fourteenth centuries), which sums up this unique place in the world of encounter, the exchange of cultures, civilizations and religions, which is the Mediterranean basin: “Sinai, ...the Bible and the Gospel, the Koran, the Talmud, the sentence of light, everything is in being...”.

On different levels, other more or less similar spaces can always find their equivalent in a completely different geographic and human context around the world; many places that can arouse in our reciprocal Churches an ardent desire to address as Christians “a fruitful pastoral care of communion”, according to the wishes of His Holiness Benedict XVI.

A real pastoral care of communion through which the Christian faith can remain in secularized society. A real pastoral care of communion which should put man before that which is of no use but which enlightens everything because secret realities still exist that we can neither explain nor buy but only admire and contemplate. A real pastoral care of communion, which ought to enable man to see his existence as a celebration, a feast, where he can finally find a word, images and gestures of truth, even if the mad history of the beginning of the twenty-first century seems to stifle this. Finally, a real pastoral care of communion which by only putting itself as a priority on the level of the ultimate legitimizations, ought to make society reflect and remind it about its possibility and especially its sense of love, and not let it get closed itself into this fascination with death which it constantly fosters now thereby generating a kind of crime anxiety. Against another or against itself!

Beyond everything, the human being is first of all a mystery, a mystery that is inscribed and circumscribed in a face. And this face can only live with others in the communion born of love. This view must necessarily be taken into consideration in the dimension of our pastoral care to exclude all our fears that have nothing in common with love, and to include all the forms of love that have nothing in common with fear.  Without this requirement, why would our evangelical witness be credible in the eyes of our fellow men and why would any culture be authentic?

Our Congress is also dealing with the theme of education in schools and universities.  In this area there is an enormous challenge to be tackled, especially by rediscovering the educational potential of the liturgy, even if it needs to undergo a revision of its forms; by rediscovering the educational potential of parish life, which will help the faithful to live their belonging to the body of the Church better; by enlivening “fraternal service” in all of its forms and making young people and adolescents take active part in it because in these situations they will learn the real meaning of love as proposed and taught by the Gospel; by including the family in the pedagogical effort because the family, the “domestic church”, is a guarantor of transmission and continuity.

This is to make it understood better that God is man's freedom; in other words, that He is that Someone who intervenes forever between nothingness and us, a nothingness which, especially in our times, generates so much terror and converts into a multitude of fears. This can surely be attained through personal effort but even more because of the fact that pastoral activity has the means to trigger the real needs of spiritual growth, both individual and collective.  At what price and with what possibilities? It is up to us to invent them through all the forms of beauty, meetings, exchanges of views and man-to-man conversations, and above all without expecting spectacular, immediate and huge results.  We are a little bit like the people who speak in tongues and for this reason our Church needs interpreters today who can propose a new translation of the evangelical Word by talking about man himself. At this stage, Theology and Pastoral Care are one.

After all, we are not asked to ignore our own identity wherever we are given to intervene, provided that we know how to be humble, peaceful leaven, the light under the bushel, so that a new cultural policy will be born in which we will take on at best the part of the religious which is ours. In the end, doesn't a miracle lie in the unexpected which God allows to take place through the intermediary of men?

“The Gospel calls to a revolution against creationism, superficiality, social injustice, moral delinquency and harmful reaction. It is on this condition, as the Metropolitan Georges Khodr writes, that the Church will truly become the Church of the depths, the Church of movement, the Church of the divine idea that acts...the world needs strong, free, true words commensurate with the Word which became flesh. In the example of what the Son of Man did, this word needs to get down into the street”.[1]

Thank you.

[1] Georges Khodr, “L'appel de l'Esprit”, Ed. Cerf – Le sel de la terre, Paris 2001, pp. 321-322.