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See Human Face of Migration, Manila Cardinal Says at Fordham

photo by Bruce Gilbert (Catholic New York)

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle is all smiles after receiving his honorary doctorate of humane letters from Fordham University during a ceremony on the Rose Hill campus March 28. To his right are Father Joseph McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University, and Cardinal Egan, Archbishop Emeritus of New York.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, and a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on the Pastoral Care for Migrants and Itinerant People, asked his audience at Fordham University March 28 to look beyond the raw statistics he had just quoted on the staggering scale of mass human migration in the early 21st century to see the human faces behind the numbers.

And, he said, the Church must lead policy makers in this regard.

“According to Father Gabriele Bentoglio, C.S, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council, in 2011 there were 214 million international migrants, three percent of the world’s population, and 740 million internal migrants,” noted Cardinal Tagle, who was making his first visit to the United States as a cardinal.

Fordham bestowed a doctorate of humane letters on the cardinal in a ceremony held at Keating First auditorium on Fordham’s Rose Hill Campus in the Bronx. Attending were Cardinal Tagle’s parents; archdiocesan leaders, including Cardinal Egan, Archbishop Emeritus, and the Philippine diplomatic corps. Two days later, Cardinal Tagle, 56, was a concelebrant at a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Dolan at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. 

“The Church must lead the world and policy makers in viewing migrants and refugees beyond statistics towards a recovery of the full human dimension,” said Cardinal Tagle at Fordham.

“The focus on the migrant and the refugee as a human person constitutes the core of the Church’s pastoral involvement in this area of concern,” he continued. “Basing itself on Sacred Scriptures and the social teaching emanating from it, the Church has consistently defended and protected migrants and refugees as human beings who bear the image of God and the presence of Jesus, persons whose rights need to be respected and potentials developed.”

He said that while the right to migrate is a fundamental human right so is the right to remain home and that right is increasingly threatened. He pointed out that a large percentage of the world’s migrants are people who had little or no choice in the matter. They have been forced from their homelands, either because of political upheaval, natural disaster, a dearth of economic opportunity or eviction from their homes by “so-called development projects.” 

He said it is incumbent on Christians to “journey” with the forcibly displaced to understand what dire circumstances forced them onto such perilous journeys. “The migrant, especially the forced migrant, is a traveler, a person on a journey, tired, thirsty, weary, fearful. As their co-journeyers and companions we can help transform their story from that of horror into one of warm welcome by sisters and brothers,” he said. “Our communion and solidarity with them has the power to direct the narrative of humiliation into an experience of resurrection and mission."

In welcoming Cardinal Tagle, Father Joseph McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University, noted Cardinal Tagle’s Jesuit roots. Cardinal Tagle attended Fordham’s sister Jesuit institution in the Philippines, the Ateneo de Manila University. 

“You have lived your life as an example of the very best that Jesuit education seeks to produce,” Father McShane said. “You are a man whose life is marked by competence, conscience, compassion and deep commitment to the cause of the poor. Although this is your first visit to Fordham, we feel that you are a part of our family and have been for a very long time.” Father McShane pointed out that Fordham shares a long history with the Philippines. 

Over the last century hundreds of Jesuits from the New York province have served there. Some were on hand at the ceremony including Father Joseph A. O’Hare S.J., president emeritus of Fordham, who taught at the College of Arts and Science at Ateneo de Manila for many years. 

Cardinal Tagle accepted the honorary degree on behalf of the Filipino people, “who provide the Universal Church with such a joyous witness to our faith.” He noted “those who continue to suffer on account of recent natural disasters,” alluding to Typhoon Haiyan, which decimated much of the Philippines last November. Student members of Fordham’s Philippine-American Club presented Cardinal Tagle with a check of $5,000 to support the relief work of Caritas Manila in the typhoon-devastated areas.

In an exclusive interview prior to the ceremony Cardinal Tagle told “CNY that the typhoon had caused a new wave of internal migration that was putting even greater stress on the delicate social fabric of his country, which has already sent so many of its citizens abroad in search of a better life. More than 12 percent of Filipinos, about 10.5 million, live in the diaspora. The State Department estimates some 4 million Filipino Americans live here. 

“Now we are seeing a lot of internal migration,” he acknowledged. “People are leaving those areas that have been destroyed for safer places, usually to the big metropolitan centers, which are already congested. So this will lead to new social configurations with their accompanying social and cultural problems, poverty, crime, drugs, prostitution.” 

He said it was incumbent on the Philippine government to create opportunities for Filipinos to attain a standard of living that would enable them to remain home. In the meantime he said there was a “silver lining” for the Church, at least, of so many devout Filipinos living abroad.

“Last February I celebrated Mass for the Filipino community of the Archdiocese of Milan, a special encounter graciously organized by Cardinal Angelo Scola,” he recalled. “To my surprise, 20,000 Filipino migrants came, filling the duomo, the piazza and surrounding streets. The vicar for migrants whispered to me, ‘Behold the future of the Church in Milan!’ I respectfully corrected him, ‘Monsignor, they are not the future of the Church. They are the present of the Church in Milan.’ The migrants had found not only jobs, but a mission.” By RON LAJOIE (Catholic New York)