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Free to choose to stay or go

Free to Choose to Stay or Go

The Church has been celebrating the World Day of Migrants and Refugees (WDMR) since 1914 as an opportunity to express concern for different vulnerable people on the move; to pray for them as they face many challenges; and to increase awareness about the opportunities that migration offers.  Every year the WDMR is the last Sunday of September; in 2023 it will be celebrated on 24 September. As the title for his annual message, the Holy Father has chosen: “Free to choose whether to migrate or to stay”.*  See HERE

“The migratory flows of our times are the expression of a complex and varied phenomenon that, to be properly understood, requires a careful analysis of every aspect of its different stages, from departure to arrival, including the possibility of return. As a contribution to this effort, I have chosen to devote the Message for the 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees to the freedom that should always mark the decision to leave one’s native land”.  (Pope Francis, Message for WDMR 2023).

*“Free to leave, free to stay” was the title of an initiative of solidarity promoted several years ago by the Italian Episcopal Conference as a concrete response to the challenges posed by contemporary migration movements.

Free to choose?

The flight of the Holy Family into Egypt was not the result of a free decision, nor were many of the migrations that marked the history of the people of Israel. The decision to migrate should always be free, yet in many cases, even in our day, it is not. Conflicts, natural disasters, or more simply the impossibility of living a dignified and prosperous life in one’s native land is forcing millions of persons to leave.  Eliminating these causes and putting an end to forced migration calls for shared commitment on the part of all.

This commitment begins with asking what we can do, but also what we need to stop doing. We need to make every effort to halt the arms race, economic colonialism, the plundering of other people’s resources and the devastation of our common home.

To make migration a choice that is truly free, efforts must be made to ensure to everyone an equal share in the common good, respect for his or her fundamental rights, and access to an integral human development. Only in this way will we be able to offer to each person the possibility of a dignified and fulfilling life, whether individually or within families. Clearly, the principal responsibility falls to the countries of origin and their leaders, who are called to practice a good politics – one that is transparent, honest, farsighted and at the service of all, especially those most vulnerable.

Only by  walking together

Joint efforts are needed by individual countries and the international community to ensure that all enjoy the right not to be forced to emigrate, in other words, the chance to live in peace and with dignity in one’s own country.  Until this right is guaranteed – and here we are speaking of a long process – many people will still have to emigrate in order to seek a better life.

Even as we work to ensure that in every case migration is the fruit of a free decision, we are called to show maximum respect for the dignity of each migrant; this entails accompanying and managing waves of migration as best we can, constructing bridges and not walls, expanding channels for a safe and regular migration.

“The synodal path that we have undertaken as a Church leads us to see in those who are most vulnerable – among whom are many migrants and refugees – special companions on our way, to be loved and cared for as brothers and sisters. Only by walking together will we be able to go far and reach the common goal of our journey”. (Pope Francis, Message for WDMR 2023).

Download Full Message HERE

We Pray:

God, Father Almighty,
grant us the grace to work tirelessly
for justice, solidarity and peace,
so that all your children may enjoy
the freedom to choose whether to migrate or to stay.
Grant us the courage to denounce
all the horrors of our world,
and to combat every injustice
that mars the beauty of your children
and the harmony of our common home.
Sustain us by the power of your Spirit,
so that we can reflect your tender love
to every migrant whom you place in our path,
and to spread in hearts and in every situation
the culture of encounter and of care.

A timely reflection on today’s migrants & refugees

A biblical, theological and pastoral reflection on today’s migrants and refugees is therefore very timely and useful. To such extent, the Scalabrini International Migration Institute (SIMI), the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), and the Union of Superiors General (USG) organised and held an online international conference on the Theology of Human Mobility in the 21st Century on 20-22 September 2021. This book presents the proceedings of the conference, aiming at providing valuable information and insights for both biblical and theological research, as well as for the pastoral planning and the formation and training of pastoral workers.  For more information, please contact: info@simieducation.org

“Pope Francis reminds us that we need to know how to pitch our tent among the inhabitants of the existential peripheries; this allows us to listen to the people of God, read together the signs of the times and above all to learn the meaning of the faith of the faithful» – said Fr. Baggio. This path must be accompanied by a «systematic study» given «the complexity and rapidity of the changes as well as the breadth of the actors that the migration phenomenon involves: those who are migrants, refugees, displaced persons, sea-farers and all those who in one way or another experience a form of uprooting»  [extract from the introduction to the book ‘Book: Migrants and Pilgrims as Our Ancestors: Theology of Human Mobility in the 21st Century’ – Editors Elizangela Chaves Dias Aldo Skoda Veronica De Sanctis’].


Love the Stranger

The theme of Pope Francis’ message for the 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees is: Free to choose whether to migrate or to stay. The theme, and indeed the Holy Father’s message, echoes many of the principles found in the Bishops’ document on refugees and migrants published earlier in 2023 – Love the Stranger.

Love the Stranger places the human being at the heart of our pastoral outreach, looking beyond statistics and policies to the person – each with a name, a face and a story.

The document offers 24 guiding principles and has been endorsed by the Holy See, COMECE, CAFOD, CSAN and Caritas Social Action Network members.


The main sections of the publication are:

ForewordPrinciples, Introduction, A global perspectiveThe right to flourish in one’s homeland, The right to migrate, Equality and human dignity, Human trafficking and slaveryThe gift of migrationConcluding reflection

See The Catholic Church – The Bishops Conference of England and Wale – WDMR2023


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