Vatican provides pastoral guidelines to help internally displaced persons

The Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development provides new guidelines for responding to the challenges of assisting internally displaced persons.

By Christopher Wells

The Vatican on Tuesday presented guidelines for the Church’s response to the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs). A new booklet from the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development identifies “new challenges posed by the present global scenario” and suggests “adequate pastoral responses”.

Pastoral Orientations on Internally Displaced Persons” (POIDP) is intended “to provide a series of key considerations that may be useful… in pastoral planning and programme development for the effective assistance of IDPs”. It offers “suggestions and guidance for action based on four words: welcome, protect, promote, and integrate”.  Pope Francis has proposed these verbs with respect to migrants and refugees.

In separate sections corresponding to these four verbs, the booklet notes challenges facing IDPs and considers how the Church is being called to respond to those challenges.


The Pastoral Orientations recognizes the complex situation of internally displaced persons. It especially notes that they are often forgotten by society at large and calls for the Church to raise awareness about the issue.

Acknowledging that host communities are often in precarious situations themselves, it calls on “all actors” to promote “a balanced and comprehensive approach to humanitarian aid” for the benefit of both IDPs and the communities that receive them.


The Section for Migrants and Refugees notes that IDPs “are often displaced for the same reasons as refugees and have similar protection needs”. However, because they have not crossed international borders, they do not have the same rights or legal status under international law.

The document notes, too, that national authorities, which have “the primary responsibility for their protection needs … are sometimes unwilling or unable” to provide for them. It calls on the Church to advocate for clear regulations “for the protection of IDPs at the local, national, and international level”.

It also calls for special care for IDPs who are most vulnerable, including people fleeing from war, abused women and children, child soldiers, and disabled persons, as well as members of ethnic groups that face discrimination.


The Church is also called to promote the material and spiritual needs of IDPs. With regard to temporal wellbeing, members of displaced communities should be aided so they can participate fully in the social and economic life of their host communities. In this regard, education and medical care are of particular importance.

While many organisations attempt to meet material needs, the religious and spiritual welfare of IDPs can sometimes be neglected. The new document notes that this spiritual dimension “is essential to the integral human development that is supposed to be the goal of every programme addressing IDPs”.

In particular, the Document calls on local bishops “to adopt specific pastoral structures and programmes addressing IDPs’ material and spiritual needs”.


Concerning the integration of internally displaced persons in new communities, the Section for Migrants and Refugees calls for responsible parties to seek durable solutions.

Emergency camps, the document notes, “are a temporary solution and are not a substitute for adequate housing”. Attempts to provide for long-term, durable solutions must involve all stakeholders.

Specifically, the Document raises the issue of integration, which is often difficult both for IDPs and host communities. Here the Church is called to provide both groups “with guidance and support to promote authentic integration”. This should recognise the rights and responsibilities of all involved, especially the mutual benefits that can accrue to both the displaced persons and the communities that welcome them.


The Section for Migrants and Refugees emphasises the need for “joint work and coordination” among all parties involved in assisting IDPs. It calls for cooperation among Catholic pastoral actors, especially under the leadership of local bishops.

The Document also encourages Catholics to promote ecumenical and interreligious cooperation, and cooperation with other actors concerned in caring for IDPs. It adds, however, that “the missions and objectives of partner organizations must be compatible with the vocation and doctrine of the Catholic Church”.

Catholic organizations are invited to share data and information with other organizations involved in aiding IDPs.  “The mutual exchange of knowledge and information is key to providing an effective response,” the Document says.

Building a fairer, more inclusive society

The Document concludes turning once again to Pope Francis. In his Message for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the Pope says that the four verbs – welcome, protect, promote, integrate – “describe the Church’s mission to all those living in the existential peripheries”.

Applying these words to all vulnerable persons “on the move”, including IDPs, “contributes and helps all of us to build a fairer, more inclusive society, where the integral human development of all its members is promoted”.

Practical suggestions

In a final section, the Migrant and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development offers suggestions as to how to use the new document. Specifically, it suggests using the pastoral orientations in information and awareness campaigns; distributing the new booklet and other relevant Church documents to NGOs and civil society groups; and entering into dialogue with government officials responsible for IDPs.

It also invites those involved in aiding IDPs to share their experiences and offer feedback on how the pastoral orientations are implemented, and on how they are received by governments and by civil society.

The full text of "Pastoral Orientations on Internally Displaced Persons", with supporting documents as well as updates and reflections, can be found by clicking here: Migrants and Refugees website

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05 May 2020, 11:30