In his important exhortation, “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente,” delivered on September 14, 2012, in Lebanon during his visit, the Pope discusses at length the issue of migration. We publish here the text.

31. Life in the Middle East is rich in diversity, but all too frequently restrictive and even violent. This affects all the inhabitants of the region and every aspect of their lives. Christians, who frequently find themselves in a delicate position, feel keenly, at times with weariness and little hope, the negative consequences of these conflicts and uncertainties. They experience frequent humiliation. They know from experience that they are often the victims when trouble breaks out. After taking an active part for centuries in the growth of their respective nations and helping to forge their identity and prosperity, many Christians are now seeking more favourable horizons and places of peace where their families will be able to live a dignified and secure life, and spaces of freedom where they can express their faith openly without fear of various constraints. (1) This is a heart-rending decision. It has a profound impact on individuals, families and Churches. It dismembers nations and contributes to the human, cultural and religious impoverishment of the Middle East. A Middle East without Christians, or with only a few Christians, would no longer be the Middle East, since Christians, together with other believers, are part of the distinctive identity of the region. All are responsible before God for one another. Thus it is important that politicians and religious leaders appreciate this and avoid those policies or partisan strategies which would result in a monochromatic Middle East that would be completely unreflective of its rich human and historic reality.

32. The Pastors of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris realize with regret and concern that the numbers of their faithful are dwindling in the traditional Patriarchal territories, and for some time now they have had to develop a plan of pastoral care for emigrants. (2) I am certain that they are doing all in their power to exhort the faithful to continue to hope, not to leave their homelands and not to sell their possessions.(3) I ask them to continue to show affection for their priests and faithful in the diaspora, and I encourage them to stay in close contact with their families and Churches and above all to remain steadfast in their faith in God through their religious identity, built as it is upon venerable spiritual traditions. (4) By preserving this closeness to God and to their respective Churches, and by cultivating a deep love of their Latin brothers and sisters, they will greatly benefit the entire Catholic Church. I also exhort the Church’s Pastors in those places where Eastern Catholics have settled to welcome them with charity and fraternal esteem, to facilitate the bonds of communion between emigrants and their Churches of origin, and to enable them to celebrate in accordance with their own traditions and, wherever possible, to develop pastoral and parish activities. (5)

33. The Latin Church in the Middle East, which has also seen a dramatic decline in the number of its faithful, operates in different circumstances and has to deal with a variety of new pastoral challenges. In countries with strong economies, her Pastors have to respond to a massive influx of workers coming from Africa, the Far East and the Indian sub-continent. These groups, comprising many single men and women or entire families, face insecurity on two fronts. They are aliens in the country where they work, and they frequently experience discrimination and injustice. God has a special concern for the foreigner, who thus deserves respect. The way we treat strangers will be taken into account at the Last Judgment (cf. Mt 25:35, 43). (6)

34. These persons, downtrodden, at the mercy of others and unable to defend themselves, bound by contracts which are more or less limited, or even legal, are often the victims of violations of local laws and international conventions. They also face powerful pressure and grave religious restrictions. The task of their Pastors is both necessary and delicate. I encourage all the Catholic faithful and all priests, to whatever Church they belong, to manifest sincere communion and pastoral cooperation with the local Bishop, and I ask the Bishops to show paternal understanding towards all the Eastern faithful. It is by working together and above all by speaking with one voice that, in situations like these, all will be able to live and celebrate their faith, enriched by the diversity of spiritual traditions and remaining in contact with their Christian communities of origin. I also invite the leaders of those countries which receive these new groups to respect and defend their rights, and to allow them freely to express their faith by promoting religious freedom and the construction of places of worship. Religious freedom “could become the subject of dialogue between Christians and Muslims, a dialogue whose urgency and usefulness was reiterated by the Synod Fathers”. (7)

35. Some Catholics born in the Middle East, whether out of necessity, weariness or despair, make the dramatic decision to abandon the land of their ancestors, their family and their believing community. Others, full of hope, choose to remain in their country and community. I encourage the latter to reaffirm their praiseworthy commitment and to remain firm in the faith. Other Catholics decide on a course at least as heartrending as that of their brothers and sisters in the Middle East who emigrate; fleeing from unsure prospects in the hope of building a better future, they choose to come to the countries of the region in order to live and work. Native and immigrant Catholics together constitute the current reality of Catholicism in the region.

36. As Pastor of the universal Church, I wish to say a word to all the Catholics of the region, whether native or recently arrived, realizing that in recent years their proportionate numbers have come closer together: for God there is only one people and for believers only one faith! Strive to live in unity and respect, and in fraternal communion with one another in mutual love and esteem, so as to be credible witnesses to your faith in the death and resurrection of Christ! God will hear your prayer, he will bless your way of life and give you his Spirit to enable you to bear the burden of the day. For “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17). To Christians who were experiencing similar situations Saint Peter wrote the following words of exhortation which I willingly address to you: “Now who is there to harm you, if you are zealous for what is right? … Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ the Lord. Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:13-15).

(1) Cf. Benedict XVI, Message for the 2006 World Day of Migrants and Refugees (18 October 2005): AAS 97 (2005), 981-983; Message for the 2008 World Day of Migrants and Refugees (18 October 2007): AAS 99 (2007), 1065-1067; Message for the 2012 World Day of Migrants and Refugees (21 September 2011): AAS 103 (2011), 763-766.

(2) Cf. Propositio 11.

(3) Cf. Propositiones 6 and 10.

(4) Cf. Propositio 12.

(5) Cf. Propositio 15.

(6) Cf. Propositio 14.

(7) Benedict XVI, Homily at the Closing Mass of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East (24 October 2010): AAS 102 (2010), 815.