According to official estimates, one third of migrants worldwide are of an age ranging between 15 to 25 years. To these, one must add those children born to first generation immigrants: these are in fact young people “mit Migrationshintergrund” (with migratory background) that have been reunited to their own family or were born or schooled in the country of migration.(1) We are talking of a youth world of vast proportions that is facing the challenges of the process of integration. This presents its own particular problems and specific needs for intervention that must also be typical and made to fit; a world in which there is also room for an input inspired by Christian values on the part of the Churches and ecclesial Communities.
This is precisely the theme of this presentation.
What is then the situation, more specifically, of the second generation and of youth belonging to ethnic minorities? We can start by affirming that it is a group running a very strong risk of being marginalized on two accounts: first as young people who, like their native peers, must deal with the problems and difficulties coming from attending school, and from approaching their first employment, and, secondly, as members of a minority group more or less discriminated against and stigmatized. One must also keep in mind that, often, because of the excessive attention paid to the socio-economic and ethnic situation of migrants, public opinion has failed to focus on the cultural contexts in which immigrants make and pursue their choices, which include the spiritual resources offered by Religion especially to young migrant generations. Likewise there are psychological consequences effecting their capacity to cope with the adversities and the obstacles to which they are particularly exposed especially during the critical phases of migration in general.
I would also like to add, that, besides spiritual resources, the religious institutions have also provided migrants with material help under the form of assistance and support during the difficult process of settlement (“first welcome”), and then with social resources, acting as facilitators and often as promoters in a network of relations based on their dual belonging, ethnic(-cultural) and confessional. Thus the role of the Churches has been, and still is, relevant from a double standpoint: preserving cultural identity and, at the same time, promoting the insertion into the new reality. Instead of mutually excluding, as it would appear at first glance, these two aspects are intertwined: many young migrants, in fact, decide to become citizens of the new country they have chosen because together with the information provided to them by their religious affiliation, it will support their hopes for a better life.
In other words, we want to stress, on one hand, the sharing of the second generation in the very complex situation of young people in general, and, on the other, we point out the impact of the family, the social group and the religious institutions upon the building of the identity of young immigrants.
1. The basic question
It appears that in a migration framework the existential issues assume a more urgent tone posing in new terms the problem of self identity. This is also expressed through the questions regarding the sense of life, social justice, the safeguard of creation, and the relationship with God. From this perspective, migration can be defined even as a “spiritual” experience, for it causes people to ask themselves about fundamental issues, and to delve into the mystery of life. It is at these times that religion plays a crucial role for young people with a migratory background in the building of identity, in the search for meaning, and in the formation to values. It has been often observed that an intense community life made of commitments and “community groups” formed under the aegis of parishes, missions, and religious institutes, provided with formal leadership (president, deputy president, treasurer…) and with a well nourished agenda of activities and meetings, seems to play a certain role in the compensation and promotion for those young people who, whilst appreciating their ethic and cultural roots, are trying to interact with the host society.
It is a known fact that in several Countries the second generation have given life to numerous associations which are active not only in the purely religious field but also socially, politically and educationally, dedicating themselves to the teaching of the language, organizing courses to make up for missed classes, helping families in need, establishing libraries, newspapers, and publishing houses, offering sporting activities and animating leisure time. This is not affirmed only with regard to Churches and Synagogues, but also to Mosques, that are perceived as centres for community living, that feed solidarity networks, provide aids to the needy and help also the communities at home.(2)
To summarize, the Churches and ecclesial Communities with their multiple institutions, are not simply places where migrants can exclusively satisfy their spiritual needs. In reality, explicitly or not, directly or indirectly, they provide a variety of resources that help face many of the hardships that young immigrants encounter in their migratory journeys. Even to this day they can visit the Christian communities to receive support for their personal difficulties, to take part in social and educational activities, and to meet people of different backgrounds who are willing to bridge the distances, and to share their knowledge with mutual enrichment. (3)
2. Assimilation or Integration?
Already during the period between the two World Wars, in American mainstream thinking, following the myth of integration-assimilation into one sole national culture (the “melting pot”), existed the model according to which the first generation would go through the experience of the hard reality of integration, without reaching the goal. However, the second generation would appear to be integrated into the culture and into the American way of life, to the point of rejecting and refusing the original ethnic-cultural background of their parents and family in order to better insert and affirm themselves. The third generation was perceived as one that was committed to the discovery to the deepest and most characteristic element of their roots. This perspective was developed in the wake of the Second World War, along with a rediscovery of the ethnic elements and of the “roots”: hence the importance attributed to the family, as the place offering protection and safety even for the second generation, in particular, for representing the psychological and cultural processes tied with identity.
It appears to be a given, at any rate, the perception that young immigrants of second generation feel compelled to create a new cultural model different both from the culture of origin, and that of the host country. a type of culture drawing from both and displaying tendencies of feeding from and also keeping its distance from the culture of origin up to the point of a form of imitation of the culture of the host country. Pope Benedict XVI mentions this when he talks of “dual belonging”.(4) In this situation of uncertainty a primary role is played by both the relationship with immigrants of the first generation (parents, friends of the family, relatives, etc.) who are more acutely aware of their identity, and the culture of the host country.
Today, when the media deals with the subject of migratory fluxes, in general they present statistical data about their size, they consider the new migratory trends, pointing out with ever increasing frequency the situations of irregularity, and the tragedies that are more and more often occurring. Yet hardly a word is said about young people who live in a migratory context, because they were born of immigrant parents in a foreign country, or transferred there in their childhood, and thus making important experiences in the field of education. They will have attended school and often are still at school, or work in the country of adoption. They speak the local language, have native friends with whom they spend their free time, go to the cinema, to the pub, to the discotheque; they love the cuisine, the fashions, the music, the new style of living, and almost all believe that their future will be in the country of destination.
Many of these young, moreover, have not forgotten the language of their parents’ former country; they have neither forgotten nor abandoned many of the traditions of their Countries of origin: religious practices, rules of behaviour, community customs that, in the end, are different from those in the new Country. They have not been assimilated. Usually they master without excessive difficulty the skill of living in harmony - or almost - with two cultures side by side and without feeling drawn in opposing directions. But it is not a simple achievement. In general, they are not always ready to accept the working conditions that have been imposed on their immigrant parents, characterized by low salaries, many working hours, and no social prestige. Their ambition to climb above their social status, makes it difficult for them to find a profession of their liking. Besides, on the part of those who are autochthonous citizens, there remains a residual mistrust in regard to these young foreigners, all the more if their skin is of different colour or profess a different religious creed.(5)
3. Difficulties created by the current Legislation
Very often, young people of second generation, do not feel completely integrated in the manner of their native peers. This can happen for a number of reasons. Often it is precisely the current legal norms that create some heavy obstacles. In Italy, for instance, a law passed in 1992 establishes that the children born in the country of immigrant parents need to assume their nationality and may apply for Italian citizenship only when they reach the age of eighteen. Now such a limitation is perceived as a humiliation. If, moreover, they postpone going through with the formalities to obtain citizenship, they run the risk of being deported from Italian territory. On the other hand, because the studies about the second generation insist upon the necessity of investing in these youth who are integral part of the local youth world, it is important they be allowed to live their life on an equal basis as their native peers.
Therefore, the first obstacle to be overcome is identified precisely in this legal condition, so the hope expressed on several occasions is that the European Union and its Member Countries should orient themselves towards the acknowledgement also of the jus soli along with the jus sanguinis; or, in any case, that they tie the policy of citizenship to residency more than to nationality. The second point, then, is to organize schools and structures of formation in such a way that they help bridge the gap separating youth with migratory background from their peers: actually, a school system is fair to everyone when it secures to all the same opportunities of success (6).
I will deal with the scholastic and professional formation in my second intervention, later in the afternoon.
4. Other areas of commitment besides the professional and scholastic field
Other important areas of action in relation to the youth with migratory background have been identified from time to time: such as the search for employment, the relationship to poverty, youth and the environment, leisure time, the participation of the young generation to the process of decision making, the care for one’s health mostly vis-à-vis the using of drugs and sexual conduct, youth criminal activity and the status of women.
These are areas of capital importance, where the Churches and ecclesial Communities are urged to give their contribution, both for what concerns the values that must guide their actions, and for what concerns the very initiatives that are set in motion in favour of young migrants of the second and third generation. It goes without saying that they must be treated as precious members, however vulnerable, of the society. Especially for what pertains to the relationship with society, the environment, leisure time, and participation, the Catholic Church agrees and promotes everything that relates to the care of oneself, of the environment and of one’s peers; and in that sense she encourages the establishment and development in the world of thousands of youth groups that have their origins in local or personal parishes, the ethnic chaplaincies, or missiones cum cura animarum (missions with pastoral care of souls), according to the different structures set up for the solicitude vis-à-vis of human mobility in different regions.
And we must not forget that the Catholic Church, by means of almost twelve thousand hospitals, numberless institutions for health care and preventive medicine throughout the world, is already striving to assist young people at risk including those who are young immigrants.
Obviously, in conclusion, the Church extends her maternal care even to the larger and complex questions that have to do with globalization and the technology of information, yet without forgetting the themes that are endlessly debated concerning the conflicts of youth and the relationships between generations. In response also to the provocations coming from the reality of the world of youth, especially those involved in any way in migration, the Church continues thus to show her awareness of living in a world that is varied and complex, and requires recognition of the needs of the most poor, plans for an adequate answer, and effective actions without wasting time. The migration experience which is placing thousands of young people among the most weak and vulnerable, has demanded of the Churches, ecclesial Communities, and also of the entire International Community, the development of clear and appropriate interventions, that are at the same time immediate, mid and long term (7).
Finally, the policies of integration towards those of the second generation form a special chapter; but it must necessarily be an integral part of the project regarding local, national and international youth policies.
5. Including all without exception
Certainly, the best contribution Churches and ecclesial Communities can make today is in the endeavour of creating a solid and effective culture of dialogue at ecumenical, inter-religious, and inter-cultural levels. In reality, it has often been pointed out that the second and third generation are characterized by young people suffering from a crisis of identity; it does not matter whether they are Christians or Moslems, or if they adhere to another religion, or even if they declare themselves as non-believers. This can, in the long term, generate feelings of discrimination in their regard that will, in turn, provoke resentment towards the host societies. For instance, the increased sense of intolerance against people of Islamic belief present in Europe, is a stumbling block in the pursuit of dialogue. Similarly, there exist negative reactions with regard to Christians and Jews. To ease the problem, on one hand, the Catholic Church suggests to Europeans a deepening of the knowledge of the many contributions that Islam has brought to European culture and civilization, and, on the other, to reciprocate that same respect with an increased of awareness of the norms and customs that gave Europe its specific outlook (cf. Erga migrantes caritas Christi n. 2; 50; 61 e 79).
It is certain that measures of excessive coercion do not educate nor are they useful to correct possible mistakes made by young immigrants of the second and third generation; with this we do not intend to downplay a right sense of responsibility, but rather to encourage the proper institutions to adopt just and proportionate measures to deal with unfortunate acts of minor and major criminality. However, we find it necessary to insist that young immigrants, up to their eighteenth birthday, should enjoy the same rights as their peers, citizens of the European Union. And permit me to add here that, unfortunately, even to this day, a minority of youth is detained in European jails, notwithstanding the fact that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Minors maintains that time in prison should be taken into consideration only as an extreme measure and only for short periods of time. Actually, the problems faced by the young immigrants such as access to education, lack of employment, discrimination, are often deeply imbedded. This does not mean that they are not essentially ready to embark on a positive process of integration since, compared to their peers who are local citizens, they seem to be more flexible and inclined to learning. It is a fact that, as a consequence of all this, there are at least three main reasons that can be blamed for the feelings of preoccupation and even of alarm in the public opinion in Europe: the fear of receiving chaotic waves of immigrants, a negative perception vis-à-vis the reality of ghettoes in cities, and competition in matter of employment. All this confirms that the only possible way to pursue integration is to involve in its process both immigrants and the local population.
And it is for this reason that the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, along with the Commissions for the pastoral care of migrants of all Bishops’ Conferences, is directing its energies in support of the processes of integration first of all through the study, the analysis, and the knowledge of the phenomenon of migration, encouraging every possible initiative in order to investigate its multiple facets, of course focusing in particular on the pastoral aspect. My Pontifical Council, besides, is animated by a constant concern to promote “the central position of the human person and the defence of the rights of migrants, both men and women, and their children; the ecclesial and missionary dimension of migration; the reappraisal of the apostolate of the laity; the value of cultures in the work of evangelisation; the protection and appreciation of minority groups in the Church; the importance of dialogue both inside and outside the Church; and the specific contribution of emigration to world peace” (Erga migrantes caritas Christi n. 27).
Quoting the 2003 Message of Pope John Paul II for the World Day of Migrant and Refugees (8), I would like to remind everybody how migrations always have an impact in two different directions: that of diversity and that of universality. The first, which is caused by the confrontation between persons and groups of different backgrounds, necessarily provokes unavoidable tensions, hidden refusals and open conflicts; the second is characterized by the harmonious encounter of different social beings meeting on the common ground of the same human heritage (9) and supported by the values of humanity and fraternity. It is a mutual enrichment through the comparison of different cultures. Seen through the first perspective, migrations accentuate the divisions, and the difficulties existing in the host society, through the second, migrations contribute in a relevant manner to the unity of the human family and to universal welfare.
Integration, by consequence, is first of all a question of relationship between persons of different background and identity who share the same physical, social, administrative, and political space. In the end it is not the various cultures that meet, or fight one another, but the people who incarnate them. On the other hand, no human being today belongs solely and exclusively to one monolithic entity, rather individuals, groups and societies are constantly forced to deal with the ever changing cultural horizons.
Integration is, mostly, a process concerning the entire society on both sides of the issue and it must include economic, social, political and religious dimensions otherwise there is no integration at all.
Integration finally, touches also upon the different affiliations – ethnical, national, religious, political, professional, and so on – to which an individual refers in his existence; it is then a process involving the groups marked by specific identities, even collective, that are in turn constantly effected by change if for no other reason than because of the evolution of its own members’ identity, especially the young. The challenge is not resolved by importing foreign models of integration but by banking upon the solid experience of some Countries that can help avoid the negative effects of both the tendencies to “assimilation at all costs”, where the diverse belongings and their evolution have not always been welcomed, and to the trends towards separation, where the respect and the preservation of what is different can become an excuse to avoid the “contamination” generated by the daily interaction between persons and communities.
Having accepted the fact that today it is meaningless to mechanically refer to the past, we can ask ourselves if it would be at all possible to elaborate a new way to integration not as a solution concocted by experts but in the sense of the experimentation of a process of cohesion and participation, that also takes into account a great resource such as the young immigrants of second and third generation. I believe that it would be possible, in the measure that we will be able to spread the conviction that the presence of immigrants is not a temporary phenomenon but something structural and that it is a great resource for the progress of humanity. (10)
Finally, it is mandatory to convince ourselves that the very young immigrants should take part in the project of shaping migration policies. Youth organizations play a key role in this. Young people are giving a new orientation to the conscience of our society, generally changing into positive the negative perception of emigration. It is precisely they, after all, who have to create a world that in the future will be more secure, welcoming, and intercultural. These young people must be given an active role in crystallizing efforts of the national community, of the international Organizations, and of educational institutions, to deal with these problems.
+ Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
Bruxelles, 14th October 2008
Pictures. Comboni press. Rome, feast of people 2008
1-. Data collected from World Youth Report 2005: Young People Today and in 2015 and elaborated by the U.N. General Secretary for the 60th Session of the General Assembly: cf. www.un.org/esa/socdev/unvin/wyr05.htm.
2-. On this subject it can be useful to consult the Atti dell’VIII Convegno Nazionale dei Centri Interculturali (Reggio Emilia, 20-21 ottobre 2005) published by G. CACCIAVILLANI – E.LEONARDI (editors), Una generazione in movimento. Gli adolescenti e Giovani immigrati, Franco Angeli, Milano 2007. Cf. also A. FUCECCHI – A. NANNI, Identità plurali, EMI, Bologna, 2004.
3-. It can by useful to recall at this point the famous expression forged by the writer Max Frisch who, on the subject of foreign workers in Switzerland, in 1965, wrote: “We were looking for working hands, we got men instead”. This expression finds an adequate echo in the Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi, which affirms that “foreign workers are not to be considered merchandise or merely manpower. Therefore they should not be treated just like any other factor of production” (n. 5): People on the Move XXXVI (95, 2004), p. 49.
4-. Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Message for the 94th World Day of Migrant and Refugee: People on the Move XXXIX (105, 2007), p. 55.
5-. Particular attention in the context of the wider European picture was paid most of all to the migratory fluxes that recently were directed toward Germany (Berlin), France (Paris), Spain (Barcelona) and Italy (Milan) in the study of M. AMBROSINI – E. ABBATECOLA (editors), Immigrazione e metropoli. Un confronto europeo, Franco Angeli, Milano 2004.
6-. Cf. G. MAMMARELLA – P. CACACE, La fida dell’Europa. Attualità e prospettive dell’integrazione, Laterza, Roma-Bari 1999, especially pages 175-189.
7-. See MARIE-JO THIEL (sous la direction de), Europe, spiritualités et culture face au racisme. Colloque international tenu au Parlement européen de Strasbourg les 28, 29 et 30 août 2003, Lit Verlag/ Editions du Cerf, Berlin-Paris 2004, especially pages 391-404 and 437-445.
8-. Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Message for the 89th World Day of Migrant and Refugee: AAS XCV (2003) 336-339.
9-. The French philosopher Remy Brague writes on Avvenire (September 13th, 2008), page 29: “Christianity does not defend a specific moral code. It chooses to limit its interventions in order to cover the minimum that allows the human existence to continue to be although remaining human. We encounter this survival ‘kit for humanity’ in the Ten Commandments. But also in the writing of the pagan philosophers in the ancient China, in India, and in many other places. You cannot find moral rules that are strictly Christian. Everybody already knows or could find out how to live. But why living, why choosing life, and, just to start, why give one’s life are questions more complex. It is right to these that the Christian faith attempts to give an answer”.
10-. BENEDICT XVI, Angelus, January 14th, 2007: People on the Move XXXIX (104, 2007), p. 29.