Not too many years ago, most of the Latin American population lived in rural areas. Currently almost 80% live in urban areas.
There are a few exceptions, including Guatemala (50.5% rural), Honduras (48.4% rural) and Haiti (47.9% rural). But Brazil has only 13.5% living in rural areas.
The change reflects many factors – including changes in agriculture, the growth of industries in urban areas, and rural poverty. People go to the large cities seeking jobs, fleeing the poverty of the countryside. Others leave their countries seeking a better life.
Thus the bishops consider both internal and external migration, which they address in terms of “human mobility.”
One of the most important phenomena in our countries is the process of human mobility, in its twofold expression of migration and itinerancy, in which millions of people migrate or find themselves forced to migrate inside or beyond their respective countries.
The bishops mention several causes and consequences. (To facilitate understanding, I’ve put these in list format.)
The causes are diverse and are related to
- the economic situation,
- violence in its various forms,
- the poverty affecting people,
- and lack of opportunities for research and professional development.
In many cases the consequences are extremely serious at the personal, family, and cultural level.
- The loss of the human capital of millions of people, trained professionals, researchers, and extensive small farming sectors, is impoverishing us more every day.
- In some instances, exploitation of labor actually creates conditions of real slavery.
- There is also a shameful trafficking in persons, including prostitution, even of minors.
Included among migrants are refugees:
The plight of refugees merits special mention, and challenges the capacity for hospitality of society and the churches.
This paragraph closes with a note on one positive economic consequences of some migration – money sent back to families from abroad, often referred to as remittances:
Nevertheless, remittances in foreign currency from emigrants to their countries of origin have become an important and sometimes irreplaceable source of resources for various countries in the region, promoting the welfare and increased social mobility of those who are able to participate successfully in this process.
Issues related to the pastoral care of migrants will be treated in paragraphs 411 to 416 of the Aparecida document.
A very important document on migration by bishops of the US and Mexico was issued in 2003: Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, which can be read here. A pdf copy can be downloaded here.
Here is the USCCB translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.