STATEMENT – Please find below the statement about the erection of a personal parish for migrants and refugees in Israel, which will take place on May 20, 2018.
Jerusalem, April 4, 2018
Dear Parish Priests,
May the Lord grant you peace!
I would like to inform you of an upcoming decision that pertains to the pastoral care of migrants and refugees in the pastoral region of Israel in which you work and which could therefore also affect your current service.
For several years the Church community in Israel has been enriched by tens of thousands of foreigners who live permanently in our territory and fill our churches. Filipinos, Indians, Sri Lankans and many others have now become an integral part of our community. Alongside them, refugees have arrived in recent years, coming from South-Sudan and Eritrea.
Initially, the pastoral ministry to these groups was carried out by priests, mostly religious, who spontaneously put themselves at the service of the pastoral needs migrant faithful. Then, gradually, the pastoral service was more organized, with the establishment of official chaplaincies. A few years ago coordination of pastoral ministry to migrants was created with the aim of providing better organization and method for the ministry.
As far as possible, this coordination continued service to the people who do not attend traditional places of worship. If it is true that many come to our churches to pray, many more remain far from churches and any religious service, often at the mercy of criminality and other risk situations, as well as evangelical sects.
Furthermore, it must be said that from a legal and canonical viewpoint, as well as social, most of these people live in borderline, often irregular, situations. They also carry out their work in social contexts far from local parishes, with very different needs. It was therefore necessary to identify forms of help and support for these people, suited to their particular situation. For these and other reasons, the process of organizing pastoral service to migrants and refugees now comes to a new stage.
After speaking with the Presbyteral Council last February 5 (CIC 515§2), I came to the decision to officially erect a personal parish for all migrants and refugees in Israel (CIC 518). This personal parish will take care of all the pastoral, sacramental and formative aspects of refugees and migrants in the territory of Israel and will therefore have all the faculties that universal law grants to parishes. However, permanent diplomats and foreigners and all those outside the pastoral region of Israel are to be excluded from this provision.
Naturally, the migrants who are currently attending the territorial parishes, if they wish, can continue peacefully attending these parishes; access to the sacraments in territorial parishes will continue to be open to all those who desire it, without distinction, including migrants.
The creation of this parish, in short, aims to guarantee a complete pastoral service to the many who are far from our churches, but who – despite the difficult social circumstances in which they live – still want to have the support of the church.
Besides, the recent decisions of the Israeli government regarding asylum seekers will require new initiatives to be defined, for which, however, it will be necessary to be prepared. For this reason also, the “Coordination for the pastoral care of migrants and refugees” will become the “Episcopal Vicariate for migrants and refugees”, and will be led by an Episcopal Vicar (CIC 476). In the future, therefore, all the chaplaincies, the various assistants and all those who work in this ecclesial field will coordinate with the Episcopal Vicar for their activities and for their ministry. I believe, in fact, that with the diversity of languages and cultures, which must be respected, it is also necessary to have elements of unity and clarity between the different groups.
As for all other Vicars and pastoral workers, it will also be a priority for the Episcopal Vicar for migrants and refugees, in keeping with the bishop’s indications and in the territory of his competence, to work for the unity of the whole Church of the Holy Land. Indeed, our Church is known for having, simultaneously, a universal and local character. Local Christians, religious communities, pilgrims who come from all over the world to the Holy Places, foreign workers, migrants and refugees, each with its own language, history and culture, belongs to the same Church of the Holy Land. The creation of new ecclesial structures is at the service of the particular needs of each one, but in the unity of the Church of Christ in the Holy Land.
The date for the canonical erection of the parish and the Vicariate has been set for May 20, the Solemnity of Pentecost.
I thank all of you for your invaluable service to our Church.