National Migration Week highlights 'overlooked right' not to migrate

WASHINGTON – The Catholic Church in the United States will observe National Migration Week from September 18-24. Each year, this week-long celebration culminates with the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, established by the Holy See over 100 years ago and commemorated by Catholics across the globe. Throughout this week, the faithful and others of good will are encouraged to reflect on the challenges facing migrants, refugees, and others impacted by the complex phenomenon of forced displacement, the ways these newcomers enrich welcoming communities, and how we are each called to respond to them as members of the same human family.  

For this year’s observance, Pope Francis selected the theme “Free to choose whether to migrate or to stay,” underscoring the natural right not to emigrate from one’s homeland. While frequently overlooked within the U.S. immigration debate, this right has long been an integral part of the Catholic Church’s social teaching on migration. Emphasizing the intersection between this right and the root causes of forced displacement, the Holy Father observed in his annual message:

“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.... Migrants flee because of poverty, fear or desperation. Eliminating these causes and thus putting an end to forced migration calls for shared commitment on the part of all, in accordance with the responsibilities of each.”

Ahead of National Migration Week, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, issued the following statement:

“For millennia, people have been forced to flee their homelands, seeking safety and security, because of factors beyond their control. Pope Francis reminds us that Sacred Scripture reveals the Holy Family’s own flight 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. Through our belief in Jesus Christ, we are compelled to respond with charity toward those who must uproot their lives in search of refuge, but efforts to manage migration—even when predicated on the common good—require that we also address the coercive forces driving people to migrate. Only through collective efforts to alleviate these forces and by establishing the conditions required for integral human development can people truly avail themselves of the right to remain in their country of birth. May God, through the intersession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, sustain us in these pursuits and protect those whose lives depend upon their success.”

Visit the Justice for Immigrants website for resources, including a toolkit for National Migration Week to aid in group discussions. Additional resources are available from the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.