Pope: No more death, no more exploitation
By David Agren
Catholic News Service
Speaking from the symbolic platform of the U.S.-Mexico border, Pope Francis pleaded for the plight of immigrants while warning those refusing to offer safe shelter and passage that their actions and inhospitable attitudes were bringing about dishonor and self-destruction as their hearts hardened and they “lost their sensitivity to pain.”
Recalling the story of Jonah and his instructions from God to save the sinful city of Ninevah by telling the residents that “injustice has infected their way of seeing the world,” Pope Francis’ homily called for compassion, change and conversion on migration issues.
He alluded to Mexico and the U.S. as Ninevah, the city he said was showing symptoms of “self-destruction as a result of oppression, dishonor, violence and injustice.” He also said mercy was a way to win over opponents.
He also preached urgency.
“We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant the migration of thousands of people, whether by train or highway or on foot, crossing hundreds of kilometers through mountains, deserts and inhospitable areas,” Pope Francis said Feb. 17 to hundreds of thousands of people from both sides of the border.
“The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today. This crisis, which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want to measure instead with names, stories and families.”
The Mass capped a six-day trip to Mexico in which Pope Francis traveled to the northern and southern borders and denounced the indignities of discrimination, corruption and violence. During the trip he also asked oft-oppressed indigenous peoples for their forgiveness and chastised the privileged political and business classes –– saying their exclusionary actions were creating “fertile ground” for children to fall into organized crime and drug cartels.
Pope Francis delivered his homily a stone’s throw from the Rio Grande, which has swallowed so many migrants over the years as they tried to enter the U.S. in search of bettering their lot in life and, more recently, escaping violence enveloping Central America.
Bishops Joe Vásquez and Daniel Garcia traveled to Juarez for the papal Mass. Both were moved by and impressed with Pope Francis’ obvious connection to the people of Mexico.
“He was there in solidarity with those who are suffering and that was evident in his messages, in his gestures and in all that he did,” Bishop Vásquez said upon his return from Mexico.
Bishop Garcia said the pope was obviously in tune with the heart of the people.
“He is a pastor and a shepherd who connects with his people on so many levels,” Bishop Garcia said. “It is obvious that he is listening to the people with his heart.”
The Mass was celebrated as a binational event with thousands watching across the Rio Grande in El Paso at the Sun Bowl stadium. Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso provided technological connections that allowed them to “pray, sing and celebrate together” and “make us feel like a single family and the same Christian community.”
Gerardo Ramos, the music director at St. William Parish in Round Rock, sang with a quartet in the choir at the Juarez Mass.
“When I started singing, there was such great joy … It was an experience of a life time and a dream come true,” he said.
Migration has marked Mexico for generations, though the number of Mexicans leaving the country is now surpassed by those returning –– involuntarily or otherwise –– as poor job prospects, an increasingly fortified border and anti-immigration initiatives prompt most to stay put.
Ironically, Mexico has assumed an unlikely role over the past several years: enforcer as it detains and deports record numbers of Central Americans trying to transit the country — while many more of those migrants are preyed upon by criminals and corrupt public officials and suffer crimes such as kidnap, robbery and rape. The Mexican crackdown came after thousands of Central American children streamed through Mexico in 2014, seeking to escape forced enlistment in gangs and hoping to reunite with parents living in the shadows of American society, working minimum-wage jobs to support children left with relatives they hadn’t seen in years.
“Each step, a journey laden with grave injustices. … They are brothers and sisters of those excluded as a result of poverty and violence, drug trafficking and criminal organizations,” Pope Francis said, while lauding the priests, religious and lay Catholics who accompany and protect migrants as they move through Mexico — acts of compassion not always popular with the authorities.
“They are on the front lines, often risking their own lives,” he said. “By their very lives they are prophets of mercy. They are the beating heart and accompanying feet of the church that opens its arms and sustains.”
Ciudad Juarez once held the dubious distinction of “murder capital of the world.” More than 10,000 lives were lost between 2008 and 2012 as drug cartels battled over a coveted smuggling route and young people were seduced by easy money into illegal activities that led to their deaths.
Jorge Nuñez, a case worker in the diocesan Office of Canonical and Tribunal Services, attended the Mass with his mother, who received tickets through a raffle at her parish. During the Mass, Nuñez was brought to tears as he listened to the pope’s message.
“Members of my own family have been victims of the violence and corruption in Mexico,” he said. “I cried knowing that the pope’s message of hope, mercy and courage was exactly what they needed to hear.”
Pope Francis said God’s mercy is our shield and our strength.
“To weep over injustice, to cry over corruption, to cry over oppression. These are tears that lead to transformation, that soften the heart; they are the tears that purify our gaze and enable us to see the cycle of sin into which very often we have sunk ... They are the tears that can break us, capable of opening us to conversion,” he said.