The Pontiff’s visit to Mexico last month drew worldwide attention to major issues in that country—drug violence, economic justice, indigenous rights, and immigration.
Pope Francis traveled to Mexico “as a pilgrim,” to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the country’s patron saint. But in his words and activities over the 6-day tour, he is seen by the wider world as an advocate—for the poor, the victimized, and the vulnerable among us. During the week, the Holy Father covered 2,000 miles, celebrated 5 Masses (one at the Basilica of Our Lady Guadalupe), and gave 13 speeches in his native language of Spanish. In a Spanish-speaking country where 84% of the population identifies as Catholic, crowds were record-breaking, and his presence offered solace and solidarity to hundreds of thousands of people—and not only Catholics—throughout the nation.
The pope’s itinerary included cities in Mexico that align with the issues covered in his speeches: San Cristóbal de Las Casas, where indigenous peoples have been persecuted for decades; Morelia, where drug-related violence is rampant; and Ciudad Juárez, once a twin city to El Paso, Texas, now an emblem of worker exploitation, drug-related violence, and failed immigration policies. In Ciudad Juárez, Pope Francis offered a blessing at the border wall, and prayed for migrants who have lost their lives on their journeys. He celebrated Mass for more than 200,000 at the fairgrounds, 300 feet from the border, which was also broadcast in El Paso’s Sun Bowl Stadium. “This human tragedy of forced migration is a global phenomenon today,” he said. “This crisis, which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want instead to measure with names, stories, families.”
From the beginning of his tenure, the Holy Father has placed immigration and human dignity for all at the center of his papacy; his first official visit was to Lampedusa, an island off the coast of Italy where migrants who have made the treacherous boat trip from Africa wait to move on. As Francis astutely observed, “The challenge of our age is immigration.” And today, with 60 million displaced people around the globe, migrants and refugees face greater challenges than ever before, not only in acclimating to their new homes and facing harsh political realities and cultural obstacles, but in surviving their journeys to begin with. Migrating from Mexico or Central America has become nothing less than life-threatening as migrants face crackdowns on both sides of the border. U.S. policies, such as militarization and the strategically-built border wall, have funneled travelers to the most perilous border terrain; in Mexico, the Plan Frontera Sur has resulted in more arrests along safer, well-traveled routes, forcing migrants (among them many women and children) to traverse dangerous areas dominated by organized crime.
Pope Francis has shone a spotlight on the crisis. A humble pilgrim he may be, but his words issue forth from a high-profile podium, and his advocacy on behalf of the poor, the unprotected and the displaced brings our failures into sharper focus. Though his approach is subtle and his criticisms implicit rather than overt, his observations about immigration and other issues amount to loving indictments as he speaks for those who are not granted a voice. Can we—as individuals, churches, societies and governments—respond lovingly in kind?
CALL TO ACTION:
To express your solidarity with Pope Francis and support for more humane immigration policies, sign this letter from the Ignatian Solidarity Network: http://ignatiansolidarity.net/pope2border/#letter.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Here is further coverage of the Pope’s visit and related topics:
- From The New York Times (2/17/16), footage and an article from the Pope’s day at the border: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/18/world/americas/pope-francis-ciudad-juarez.html?emc=edit_th_20160218&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=68564230&_r=1.
- From the National Catholic Register (2/17/16), an article about the Pope’s visit to the border, including comments by Father Sean: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/popes-ciudad-juarez-visit-spotlights-immigration-issues-on-both-sides-of-th/.
- From the Jesuit Conference (2/17/16), the Pope’s final day in Mexico and a summary of his trip, with quotes from Father Sean: http://jesuits.org/Story?TN=PROJECT-20160210122056.
- From the Los Angeles Times, a compendium of articles about the Pope’s visit: http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-pope-mexico-sg-storygallery.html.
- Also from the Los Angeles Times (2/14/16), a video about the Mexican stonemason, a deported migrant, who created the altar for Pope Francis’s cross-border Mass: http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-pope-altar-20160213-story.html.
- From the Society of Jesus (2/17/16), a report on Pope Francis’s Mass at the U.S.–Mexico border: http://www.jesuits.org/story?TN=PROJECT-20160210122056.