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After faith leaders’ border visit, the resolve to help migrants grows

Contingent from USCCB visited border areas for a week leading up to the World Day of Migrants and Refugees Sept. 29

HATCH, N.M. — A group of U.S. Catholic bishops, along with a Vatican representative and other priests, celebrated Mass Sept. 26 next to a field of chili peppers with farmworkers and their families and other immigrants.

They blessed the workers’ hands. They blessed the water that nourishes the famous Hatch chili peppers for which the town, population 1,680, is known. And they blessed the fields where the migrants toil.

In New Mexico, the town’s citizens welcomed the group with smiles, songs, dances and great amounts of homemade food from their famous product. But they also shared difficult moments.

The tales were just some of many stories of hardship and fear the group heard in a week of visits organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on the Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers.

The journey to hear the tales of immigrants — leading up to the Sept. 29 World Day of Migrants and Refugees — set a stark tone, detailing the lack of welcome, the closed doors many of the 70 million displaced people around the world are experiencing.

However, it also highlighted the work of the Catholic Church, through its organizations and parishes, and their role in providing comfort.

Deacon Carlos Luna and his wife, Maria, of Wenatchee, Wash., represented the Diocese of Yakima during the visit. Deacon Luna said it had been at times difficult to listen to the stories.

“I cried” listening to the tales of young women and their children stranded on the Mexico side of the border, alone and in a dangerous city, he said. “I’m a family man and I have daughters.”

It pained him to think of his daughters and what would happen to them if they were faced with having to flee for their lives, he said. At the same time, he found hope in those stories because someone from the Catholic Church had stepped in to help.

It also deepened his resolve, he said, to do something once he returned home.

As Bishop Peter Baldacchino of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Bishop Oscar Cantu of San Jose, California, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, and Bishop Brendan J. Cahill of Victoria, Texas, and Father Robert Stark, of the Vatican Section for Migrants and Refugees, made up the team.

Bishop Cantu said he had felt some frustration, because there are humane solutions the U.S. can choose to help vulnerable migrants. He recalled a moment on the trip when he saw migrants and their children board buses headed back toward uncertain futures in Central America.

“You could see the disappointment in their faces, their postures, their expressions. They had built up hope in being able to find asylum in the United States and after a good amount of time of waiting, they were being sent back to their home countries,” he said.

The bright spot was witnessing the “touch of humanity” members of the Catholic Church provide, he said, even in what seems like defeat.

“We can’t solve all of the problems for people in their lives, but we can, at the very least, walk with them, let them know they’re not alone,” Bishop Cantu said.

That means calling for investing in building up infrastructure in the countries of origin where many of those wanting to enter the U.S. come from so that instead of migrating, they can stay at home.

As the Church celebrates the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, it’s a time to call attention, not only to the problems along the border, Bishop John E. Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, said, but to adverse situations for migrants and refugees around the world.

“But as Americans we have a particular obligation because we promised asylum. We’ve held ourselves up as a beacon for the downtrodden, the oppressed in the world, ” he said. “How can we let them stand on the other side of the border? How can we let them stand there and wait? How can we be indifferent? Thank God for the Church, and churches, in El Paso, that have given a beautiful example.”

Christians have ‘moral duty’ to help migrants, refugees, pope says

VATICAN CITY — Christians have a moral obligation to show God’s care for all those who are marginalized, especially migrants and refugees, Pope Francis said.

“This loving care for the less privileged is presented as a characteristic trait of the God of Israel and is likewise required, as a moral duty, of all those who would belong to His people,” the pope said in his homily Sept. 29 during an outdoor Mass for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

Some 40,000 men, women and children packed St. Peter’s Square as the sounds of upbeat hymns filled the air. According to the Vatican, the members of the choir singing at the Mass hailed from Romania, Congo, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Peru and Italy.

After the Mass, Pope Francis unveiled a large bronze statue, “Angels Unawares,” in St. Peter’s Square.

Designed and sculpted by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz, the sculpture depicts a group of migrants and refugees on a boat. Within the group, a pair of angel wings can be seen, which suggests “that within the migrant and refugee is the sacred,” the artist’s website said.

“It’s really amazing,” the cardinal told Catholic News Service, adding that when his brother and sister-in-law arrive in Rome to see him become a cardinal Oct. 5, he expects they will pose for many photos in front of the artwork.

Before praying the Angelus prayer at the end of Mass, the pope said he wanted the 20-foot tall statue in St. Peter’s Square “to remind everyone of the evangelical challenge to welcome.”

The sculpture will be displayed in St. Peter’s Square for an undetermined time while a smaller replica will be permanently displayed in the Rome Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

In his homily, the pope began by reflecting on the world day’s theme — “It’s not just about migrants” — and emphasized that God calls on Christians to care for all “victims of the throwaway culture. ... The Lord calls us to practice charity toward them. He calls us to restore their humanity, as well as our own, and to leave no one behind,” he said.

However, he continued, caring for migrants and refugees is also an invitation to reflect on the injustices that occur in the world where those “who pay the price are always the little ones, the poor, the most vulnerable.”

“Wars only affect some regions of the world, yet weapons of war are produced and sold in other regions which are then unwilling to take in the refugees generated by these conflicts,” he said.

— Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service

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