Pontifical Council for the Pastoral
Care of Migrants and Itinerant People


Need for and difficulties of a specific pastoral care

of international students


(Unofficial translation)        

Rev. Sr. Mérète L. KLINKe

Students - Chaplain




I.           The facts about the student migratory flows

II.        What are the stakes

            ·   for the young migrant students                   -relating it to oneself

                                                                                              -relating them to others

            ·   for the Church                                                  -an issue for the Church today


III.      Challenges for the Church:            To stir the Christian communities...and to call  upon the Church


I. The facts about the student migratory flows

The theme of our Congress puts us from the outset at the heart of one of the major challenges of our Church today. Around the world, we are witnessing a significant increase in the number of people who carry out their studies in a country other than their country of origin. Today the student migratory flows are four times greater than in 1975. A few years ago we talked about “student mobility”. Today it seems more correct to talk about “student migratory flows”.

Today the host countries are more and more diversified. France is third among the countries that receive these students on a par with Germany. In 2010-2011, France received 284,600 foreign students: that is, more than 12% of the total student population in France, an 87.3% increase since 1998.

We cannot be indifferent to such a massive increase in migrant students. It is an urgent and pressing call to the Church to make it one of her priorities. It is also an ethical and spiritual requirement inherent in our condition as Jesus' disciples.

While this adventure is an opening up, a fantastic opportunity for a young person, many times it is also a test and a real “obstacle course”. For those who come from poor and distant countries, and they are the most numerous, it is a leap into the unknown because leaving for another country is not just a linguistic challenge or an occasion to enrich one's knowledge. The young person must often face cultural, administrative, economic and psychological problems all by himself, and even precariousness. Then the study period becomes less a course for acquiring new knowledge than an existential crisis in his personal development where he is confronted with a cultural and spiritual shock. This stay is a very important moment on a young person's way...So a type of pastoral care that takes his culture into consideration and his “temporary” state as a migrant student can help him to get through this crisis in a positive way...

Indeed, when loneliness and the material difficulties become too heavy to bear, the temptation is great to isolate oneself or stay closer to one's compatriots. Then there is a risk of falling into a kind of “communitarianism”. Moreover, when a foreign student is having difficulty with his studies, he could find himself cut off from the places of conversation and socialization.

The ones that succeed in their studies can hope to return to their country with their heads held high, to get back in touch with their families and find a job. But what becomes of the others? Many fail at the exams for various reasons...Some of the ones that fail will delay their return to their country as long as possible for fear of facing the disappointment of their family and relatives. Then failure at the university becomes failure in social and family life. One day a young woman said this to me:

“I feel a pressure on me because at home they expect so much from me...I am the first one to study at the university and get a university degree...”.

Many young men, and fewer young women among the ones I follow, are in psychological and human difficulty.  They often feel uneasy and unsettled by the “culture clash”. There is a gap between the social and cultural environment from which they come and the environment that welcomes them where they change as the days and years go by... They often experience a kind of tugging conflict that sometimes causes psychological disturbances... I am thinking of a young, intellectually brilliant Peruvian women who came to study political science in Lyon, France.  At the end of three years of studies, she returned home to Peru for the first time.  When she came back, she was completely upset and unsettled. She told me this:

“I am from a modest background but I am doing higher studies and changing. At home they cannot understand what I am learning and feeling. I cannot share it with my family.  And yet, I am not from this world where I did my studies and changed, and so who am I?  Where should I live? Or work?  One should live where one feels good! But where can I feel good today without feeling guilty?”

When they discover our de-Christianized societies, many of these students also lose their reference points regarding a Christian tradition they received in their country...

Therefore, the period of study or professional training abroad tends to become an absolutely decisive moment in a young person's formation. However, it is not easy to support it, for the higher educational institution and for the Church... 

II. What are the stakes

a. For the young migrant students

The stakes are considerable: first of all, for them, depending on whether their stay in the host country will be a more or less happy one. Many of them will return to their countries to occupy positions of responsibility. 

Relating it to oneself

·   It is important to pay attention to the student's spiritual and personal experience, his singularity and uniqueness, to support him in his culture and “temporary” state as a migrant student, to take the time to listen to his migratory experience, regardless of his situation. To take the time to relate it to himself and to his own history. Like Abraham, who left his country and became a foreigner in a country he did not know when God called him, a migrant student comes “from” somewhere and goes “towards” another place in pursuing his goal.

This means listening, through their testimonies, to what God is telling us today in order to continue to build the great human family which he wanted from the creation of the world. 

How to support a personal project and the return to one's country?

-        How can we help them succeed in their personal project and make a choice in life? Should we dare ask the question about their professional project? The return to their country? Their project in life? To return to their country of origin, despite the difficulties they are likely to find there (poverty, corruption, jealousy...), or stay in the country that has hosted them for their studies and get involved in something else?

-        We have to offer them places of the word, but demanding places; the proclamation of the faith implies a deepening in truth of the whole person, trying to give “meaning” to what one experiences.

-        We have to put ourselves in the field of support at a given moment in their history, to accept not controlling the situation, but, at the same time, to help the students to become aware that they are the masters of their history, the actors of their lives, and responsible in the final analysis for their decisions...

-        And, at the same time, it is important to make the networks of civil society act with regard to integration. 

Relating them to others

-        It is also important to take the time to relate them to others, to a culture, the host country's culture, by offering them places for meeting and sharing in small groups to make the social and racial barriers fall and progress towards a more just, more fraternal world; to offer to those who want it occasions for intercultural, international and inter-religious meetings.

-        To help them to find their way as young adults...brothers and sisters of one same human family. Tomorrow they will be the actors, the decision-makers in different areas of society. For the Church, helping them, without influencing them, to bring another view about the world and to build a more human and more fraternal globalization is both a duty and an essential challenge for a peace process. 

b. What is at stake for the Church

For the Church, her testimony is at stake...Do we know how to welcome these students from other countries, give them a sufficient place and receive their experiences, as Benedict XVI invited us to do on the occasion of the 2008 World Migrant Day?

“It is necessary to help them find a way to open up to the dynamism of interculturality and be enriched in their contact with other students of different cultures and religions. For young Christians, this study and formation experience can be a useful area for the maturation of their faith, a stimulus to be open to the universalism that is a constitutive element of the Catholic Church”.

For the Church, this is an occasion to give witness in an inter-religious context.  Her mission consists not only in “teaching the nations” or even exporting humanitarianism, but also getting into a just, equitable relationship with others that questions us as much as it allows us to question.  We should not forget that the foreign students who come to knock on our doors are not all Catholic Christians.  From the ethical viewpoint, accompanying a young person during the period of his studies is often an occasion to learn a common humanity. 

To be the Church, is a specific pastoral care necessary today for these students who come from other countries?

In my opinion, YES!, but not a “compartmentalized pastoral care” that would put the foreign students on one side and the national students on the other with the pretext that they do not have the same expectations and the same needs. And yet, we need to have particular consideration and attention for these young people who come from other places. This seems primordial to me and falls under our duty as Christians. 

There is an issue for the Church today

The specificity of our ecclesial places may mean quite simply special attention to the whole person and listening to young foreign people in order to help them to overcome isolation, get through the tests, and make their study stay an occasion for human and spiritual growth. 

III. Challenges for the Church

To stir the Christian communities...and call upon the Church

We also have to be creative and invent ways of being the Church with them in connection with their communities of origin. Through the conversations and progressions of both, we become aware of the deep roots of these young people's faith. They really have a testimony to give us. Will we give them the chance to speak and a place in our Christian communities?

We also have to ask ourselves from the ecclesial and ecumenical standpoint: Aren't there some things that ought to be completely rethought regarding ecumenism? How is it that the evangelical Churches are often better “internationalists” in some ways? We see that the young people go where the community is hospitable, regardless of their ecclesial belonging! 

By daring to make the encounter and opening up to difference, “both move towards a broader and enlivening view of the human adventure as well as the encounter with God”.

This means accepting, in the name of the Gospel, to let ourselves be upset and overturned by what we discover, to take the risk of embarking on concrete courses of action and taking our responsibilities!

To be the Church fully with these foreign students today is to face the challenge of a Church of Pentecost. A Church that looks with them for expressions of powerful faith in the different cultures and traditions. A Church that gives witness to fraternity and communion. A Church that “meets up with one fundamental characteristic of youth today: their ability to cross frontiers, to set up a fraternal relation without being encumbered by the weight of the history of our divisions between nations...Young people are factors in humanizing globalization. The young people are not only beneficiaries of the proclamation: they heed the call to become actors of the mission...Their participation in the mission...is a necessary and irreplaceable good for evangelization”. (Message of Msgr. Claude Schockert for the 2008 Day of the Migrant and Refugee, January 13, 2008).

Yes, the growing number of students from other places is an opportunity and a challenge for the Church's universality today. Will we be capable of tackling this challenge?

-        the challenge of enriching the faith starting from the intermingling of cultures, in search of a truth and a catholicity with a human face?

-        The community challenge of living together inspired by the fraternity that links Jesus' disciples with one another?