Migration, Religious Experience and Mission with Migrants in Asia

by Elvis, sx

On June 29-30, 2012, the Scalabrini Migration Center in cooperation with the Loyola School of Theology (LST) – Ateneo de Manila University has organized an International Conference on the occasion of its 25th anniversary.

Established in Manila, Philippines in 1987, the Scalabrini Migration Center (SMC) is dedicated to the promotion of the interdisciplinary study of international migration, with a specific focus on migration questions in Asia-Pacific region. Aside from research, SMC maintains a resource center specialized in migration literature, publishes the academic quarterly, Asian and Pacific Migration journal, organizes training programs, advocates for the promotion of the rights of migrants and builds networks with academic institutions, civil society, international organizations and governments.


The International Conference began with the welcome remarks of the President of Ateneo de Manila University, represented by the Dean of the Department of Sociology which was hosting the event. He was followed by the President of LST, Fr Jose Mario C. Francisco, sj and then by Fr. Graziano Battistella, cs, Director of the Scalabrini Migration Center. All of them expressed their gratitude to the organizers of the Conference and their wish to see a new understanding of the Theology of Migration as well.

After the welcome remarks, the opening panel was about Mission with migrants as the legacy of Blessed Scalabrini, founder of the Scalabrinians, through a comparative study between his time and nowadays. According to the speakers (4 Scalabrinians fathers), migration then and today has similarities and differences. Blessed Scalabrini at that time was concerned as bishop by the people migrating from Europe to the USA. He perceived this happening as providential that is why he set up a Congregation of priests, brothers with associated lay people to take care of those migrants in order to preserve their faith in their new lands. Because according to him, the Church was losing a lot of faithful more than the ones she was gaining in Mission ad gentes. Blessed Scalabrini had a strong belief also that all goods belong to all human beings. As pastor, he believed that the Church is both mother and protector of its children. In fact, according to him the Church must be a family, sacrament of unity and charity, church for the world involved in social issues such as the question of migrants.

The second session was about the religious experience of catholic migrants in Asia. According to the cahis Dr. Maruja M.B Asis, the aim of this session was to present the experience of working with migrants in some receiving countries namely Taiwan, Japan and Singapore. Each presentation highlighted briefly the type of migrants that are ministered to, the way the local Church has organized in responding to their needs, the good practices that have been established over the years and the challenges that remain.

The third session was about interfaith dialogue in migration. As migration has become a global phenomenon, migrants come from all kinds of convictions and religious beliefs. Although the Conference was focusing mainly on Catholic migrants and Catholic perspective on migration, this mission intended to explore the approach of some religions in Asia (namely Islam, Buddhism and Catholicism) to migration and the relevance of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue in the mission with migrants.

The fourth session was about the Theology of Migration. According to the Chair, Fr Jose Mario C. Francisco, sj, while the reflection on the pastoral care of migrants has already a long history and a voluminous literature devoted to it, the attempt to consider migration as a human experience in which to encounter God and conversely develop a theological reflection of migration is much more recent. Sorely lacking is also a systematic way to organize such reflections. Nonetheless, partial contributions from the different branches of theology are increasing and this session intended to offer a partial overview of them. Three topics were discussed: the current discussion in the Theology of migration; the mission with the migrants as a Trinitarian dimension and lastly; the Theology of migration from a woman’s perspective. This was the end of the first day (June 29, Friday).

The second day (June 30, Sunday) the Conference proceeded with the fifthsession which was about Mission with migrants. According to the Chair, Mr Johan Kotelers (Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission/ Geneva), migrants were not included among the traditional targets of the church’s mission, understood primarily as mission among the non-believers. However, migration has changed and it now involves migrants from non-Christian backgrounds and the theological understanding of mission also has changed. How is mission understood when lived with migrants and how is migration contributing to a rethinking of the concept of mission? What are the various implications of the mission with migrants in the Asian context? Those were some of the questions treated through those topics: Mission with the migrants, paradigm of the new mission; the role of the laity in the mission with migrants and the Ethics of migration: in search of a framework.

Last but not the least; the sixth session was about the perspectives in the pastoral care of migrants. The Chair, Fr Anthony Paganoni, CS said that the pastoral care of migrants has a long history in the Church. This session intended to ascertain the fundamental elements learned from history and which must be part of any particular Church program in the care of migrants. At the same time it looks at new approaches and new programs required by the specificity of the Asian context, in particular from regional, destination and origin perspectives. Three topics were discussed,the pastoral care of migrants: lessons from history; a multicultural experiment : the experience of Korea; and the last one about the care of families left behind treated by Bishop Precioso D. Cantillas, the chairman of the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants(ECMI), Philippines.

The director of the SMC concluded the conference giving thanks to everyone and in a special way to the speakers who came mostly from abroad. He hoped that the Conference helped everyone to move from experience to theory to practice.



  1. Thanks a lot Bro. Elvis for the very timely and comprehensive report!
    I hope many will be able to read it. Take care and see you soon.

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