After calling the international migration crisis “the challenge of our age,” Pope Francis placed the responsibility to stem illegal immigration back on the shoulders of the Mexicans, telling them to make Mexico the sort of place where people want to stay and build a home with no need to look elsewhere for opportunity and happiness.
“I invite you today to be on the front line, to be first in all the initiatives which help make this blessed land of Mexico a land of opportunities,” he said.
The Pope said that Mexico should be a place “where there will be no need to emigrate in order to dream, no need to be exploited in order to work, no need to make the despair and poverty of many the opportunism of a few, a land that will not have to mourn men and women, young people and children who are destroyed at the hands of the dealers of death.”
There has been a strong push for the Pope to address the issue of immigration and the status of undocumented Mexicans in the United States. On the eve of the Pope’s visit to the border town of Ciudad Juárez, hundreds of people, including families of undocumented immigrants, met Monday at the town of Sunland Park, New Mexico, and appealed to the Pope to address the issue of immigration in his message Wednesday.
A group called the Border Network for Human Rights organized a reunification ceremony in Sunland Park, located some 10 miles from El Paso, where representatives read aloud a letter to the pope in which undocumented immigrants lay out the adverse conditions under which they have to live in the United States.
“We are the ones who built this country of the United States with our blood and sweat,” the letter states. “The same people who are now persecuted and attacked, who are now called violators and criminals simply by crossing the border in search of a better life for our families.”
The authors of the letter reportedly were referring to the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who early in his campaign accused Mexico of sending criminals to the United States, while proposing to build a fence along the border.
A copy of the letter has been sent to Pope Francis, and was written on behalf of the families of undocumented migrants whose legal status prevents them from attend the papal Mass on the Mexican side.
In an emotional ceremony, participants released red and white balloons as a symbol of hope and the blood of immigrants in this country.
The Pope is expected to return to the topic of immigration on Wednesday, when he visits Ciudad Juárez. There he will participate in several events, including the celebration of a “cross-border” Mass, attended by both Mexicans and Americans.
The Mass is scheduled to take place at El Punto, a large field near Benito Juarez Stadium and just a short distance from the U.S. border. Organizers say that tickets have been distributed to Catholic parishes on both sides of the border for those who want to attend the Mass. The venue holds approximately 220,000 people.
“During Mass, Pope Francis will undoubtedly call attention to many realities that are lived on both sides of our U.S.-Mexico border, particularly the plight of so many migrants and refugees fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries, in search of better lives for themselves and their children,” said El Paso Bishop Mark J. Seitz in a statement.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome