Care for persons and families should be at the forefront of policies regarding migrants and refugees, the European bishops said in a recent meeting.

"The European policy and the policy of the individual Member States can only be based on respect for the individuals, and the recognition of the value and importance of the family," they said in a concluding statement of a Dec. 2-4 meeting held in Malta.

Representatives of the European bishops met to discuss the pastoral care of migrants and refugees, creating a "proposal for a communion" that focused on the migrant as a person rather than as a "commodity" that one can "import and export at will."

Rather, the issue of migration must be dealt with in a way that places the dignity of the family and the individual at the forefront of consideration, the bishops said.

"An adequate pastoral care of migrants cannot disregard their need for affection, for having a family and being part of a community."

At the same time, the bishops stated, migration should take place legally so as to protect the "public order of the countries of destination."

"A sound migration policy should encourage an active participation of migrants in society and facilitate their integration in the labor market."

However, this responsibility does not lie only with the government, this bishops concluded.

"The Church has a vocation to be close, to reach out and accompany the journey of every human being, following her Lord."

For years, the Church has been working to create strong ties between the country of origin and "communities of destination" for migrants through initiatives such as language courses and guest houses for families.

Migration proves to be a "real challenge" for Christian communities because it deals with one's "ability to accept and deal with difference," the meeting noted.

Instead of treating migration merely as a charity case, it should be welcomed as "an opportunity for enriching our ecclesial communion."

The bishops met in Malta at the invitation of the Maltese bishops, Archbishop Paul Cremona of Malta and Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo. The meeting was organized by Director of the Malta Emigrants Commission, Monsignor Alfred Vella.

Cardinal Josip Bozanic, Archbishop of Zagreb presided over the meetings, and speakers included Laura Zanfrini of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan; Emanuel Mallia, Minister of Interior and National Security of the Republic of Malta; and Bishop Ciriaco Benavente Mateos of Albacete, president of the Spanish bishops' migration commission.