There was a reception last night at Il Cantico Hotel hosted by the Governing Committee of the ICMC, the International Catholic Migration Commission, to introduce the new ICMC president, Dr. Anne Therese Gallagher. It was a special evening for me as I’ve followed ICMC activities for a number of years and have interviewed past presidents, secretaries general, including the current secretary general, Msgr. Robert Vitillo, and board members, including Cardinal George Pell.

I was also able to catch up on ICMC activities with several board and commission members at dinner after the reception. One such member is a friend from Boston, Bill Wise.

Bill is a multi-talented and much appreciated member of the board. At the ICMC meeting in March in Rome, he participated in drafting and advising on amendments to the organization’s Statutes and Rules, preparing motions for consideration by members of the Council, qualifying the external auditor for appointment by the Council and providing guidance and oversight for the election of the new ICMC President, Dr. Anne T. Gallagher AO of Australia.

To hear the board members speak, Dr. Gallagher is a terrific leader and people are excited about the coming years under her leadership. Meeting her you can understand their feelings.

Her bio on the ICMS site notes that she is an Australian-born lawyer, practitioner and scholar. An expert on migration, human rights and the administration of criminal justice, her experience spans more than 25 years and over 40 countries of Africa, the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. She began her international career in 1992 as a Legal Officer with the United Nations. From 1998, to 2002 she was Senior Adviser to Mary Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights – playing a key role in development of international laws and policies and coordinating UN agencies to that end.

Since 2002, Gallagher has continued to work closely with the UN while holding multiple leadership positions, including within the world’s largest criminal justice intervention against trafficking (2003-present). Her current posts include Co-Chair of the International Bar Association’s Presidential Task Force on Human Trafficking; Member of the International Migration Organization’s Migration Advisory Board; and Academic Adviser to Doughty St Chambers (the UK’s leading civil liberties law firm).

A practicing Catholic, Gallagher was involved, from the earliest stage, in the Vatican’s efforts to address human trafficking and is currently a member of the Archbishop of Sydney’s Taskforce on Modern Slavery.

Here she is pictured with Msgr. Vitillo and Jane Bloom, retiring head of the U.S. liaison office in Washington, D.C.

Journalists, several ambassadors and other embassy officials, including DCM Lou Bono of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, and several representatives of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State were also present last night.

By the way, ICMC’s secretary general, Msgr. Vitillo, is one amazing man in his own right (and is as humble as he is hardworking), an inspiration to the other ICMC members and the teams of people around the world who work to help ICMC in any way they can – paid staff, volunteers, local clergy, etc.

An American, Msgr. Vitillo is a trained social worker with a broad expertise in migration and refugee services, child protection, social services, human rights, HIV/AIDS and global health. From 2005 to 2016, he served as Head of Delegation of Caritas Internationalis in Geneva and as Special Advisor on HIV and AIDS.

Before that, from 1997 to 2005, Msgr. Vitillo held the position of Executive Director for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. During the 1980’s, as Director of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, he coordinated the resettlement of Southeast Asian, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Haitian and Cuban refugees to the United States and assisted ICMC in the design of cultural orientation programs for refugees in Bataan, Philippines.

I learned a surprising fact in one interview with Msgr. Vitillo – how, for example, ICMC vets migrants and refugees who want to enter the U.S., doing so for the U.S. State Department and for the Department of Homeland Security.

The ICMC does truly remarkable work around the world for the millions of people left homeless and turned into refugees by war, violence, famine, or fleeing from dictatorships. And millions are migrants who, as they leave their homeland for what they think will be a better life, end up as jobless and displaced people or, worse, trafficked human beings – a major concern of the Vatican and Popes.

On March 6 this year, Cardinal Pietro Parolin addressed the ICMC as they met in Rome on business

He said, “This is a crucial moment in which the International Catholic Commission for Migration is called to provide for the Church and the world, as well as for itself, effective answers to new questions and to consider the most appropriate contemporary way for it to carry out its commitment in situations of migration.”

The cardinal reminded his guests that, “the ICMC was established by Pope Pius XII following the upheavals caused by the Second World War. He wanted an international Catholic body of information, coordination and representation for migration, in order to cope with the massive displacement of refugees.”

The result, signed into being by the Substitute of the Secretariat of State, Mgr Giovanni Battista Montini – the future Paul VI – was the ICMC. The Commission’s main purpose was to promote the application of Christian principles on migration and on policies concerning populations, and to seek the adoption of such principles by international organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, particularly in favour of the protection of the rights of families.

Cardinal Parolin emphasized “the respect that the ICMC has earned in the international community, through cooperating, in keeping with its Catholic identity, with international agencies and other governmental and non-governmental institutions at various levels and in different countries.”

He especially stressed “the ability, acquired by the ICMC in the course of its activity, to establish dialogue between different subjects: governments and civil society; humanitarian and security agencies; Catholic organizations and those belonging to other Christian denominations or those that do not identify with any religious affiliation, but intend to work for the good of migrants. For years, then, the ICMC has coordinated, on behalf of the various host governments, the whole process of participation, at a global level, of civil society organizations in the meetings of the Global Forum on Migration and Development, including the successful organisation of the Civil Society Days.

The secretary of State, noting that ICMC is now working in close contact with the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, expressed the hope that “this definite and expert experience of dialogue in order to create and sustain that network of solidarity, which alone can respond to today’s pressing needs and, together, guarantee the implementation of those agreements which are so greatly needed at the international level.”

Two days later, March 8, Pope Francis addressed the ICMC and said it is his hope that the work of ICMC will continue to “inspire local Churches to do all they can for persons forced to leave their home countries and who, all too often, become victims of dishonesty, violence and abuse of every sort.” He also highlighted ICMC’s “invaluable experience accumulated over many years of work, … to offer expert assistance to Bishops’ Conferences and Dioceses that seek to respond more effectively to this epochal challenge,” conferences whose “common intent is to bear witness before the world to the Church’s pastoral concern for “our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters.”