'No more death, no more exploitation,' pope says at U.S.-Mexico border

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By David Agren

Mexico (CNS) — 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 United States 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

“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

“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 vainly tried to enter the United States
in search of bettering their lot in life and, more recently, escaping violence
enveloping Central America.

The Mass was
celebrated as a binational event with thousands watching across the Rio Grande
in El Paso and in a college football stadium. Pope Francis saluted the crowds
watching at the Sun Bowl stadium and Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso for providing
technological connections that allowed them to “pray, sing and celebrate
together” and “make us feel like a single family and the same
Christian community.”

The pope focused
on migration, along with the dangers migrants encounter en route to their
destinations and the difficulties of surviving on the margins of society
without protections.

“Being faced
with so many legal vacuums, they get caught up in a web that ensnares and
always destroys the poorest,” Pope Francis 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.

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

“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.”

“They are
brothers and sisters of those excluded as a result of poverty and violence,
drug trafficking and criminal organizations,” Pope Francis said. “Injustice
is radicalized in the young. They are ‘cannon fodder,’ persecuted and
threatened when they try to flee the spiral of violence and hell of drugs. Then
there are the women unjustly robbed of their lives.”

Pope Francis ended his homily by returning to the
example of Jonah and his call for conversion in Ninevah. He called “mercy,
which always rejects wickedness,” a way to win over opponents, saying it “always
appeals to the latent and numbed goodness in every person,” and urged
people to follow Jonah’s example.

“Just as in Jonah’s time,
so too today may we commit ourselves to conversion,” Pope Francis said. “May
we commit ourselves to conversion. May we be signs lighting the way and
announcing salvations.”

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.

The pope’s visit was promoted by
civic officials as a rebirth for Ciudad Juarez, though priests say the city
still suffers vices such as exclusion and violence — in lower numbers than
before — and jobs with low salaries and long hours in the booming factory for
export economy, all of which strain family life.

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