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Pope, Christian leaders condemn use of violence against Syria

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VATICAN CITY  — Sharply criticizing a failure to find nonviolent means of bringing peace to Syria and other parts of the world, Pope Francis appealed to world leaders to work for justice and peace.

“I am deeply disturbed by the current world situation, in which, despite the instruments available to international community, it struggles to agree on joint action in favor of peace in Syria and other regions of the world,” he said after praying the “Regina Coeli” with people gathered in St. Peter’s Square April 15. Read more »

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‘No more death, no more exploitation,’ Pope Francis says at U.S.-Mexico border

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Catholic News Service

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — 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.”

Pope Francis prays at a cross on the border with El Paso, Texas, before celebrating  Mass at the fairgrounds in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Feb. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis prays at a cross on the border with El Paso, Texas, before celebrating Mass at the fairgrounds in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Feb. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

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 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 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.

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.”

“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.

 

Follow Agren on Twitter: @el_reportero.

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Ukrainian bishop warns of mass starvation, millions of refugees

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Catholic News Service

WARSAW, Poland — A Ukrainian bishop said a Russian-backed separatist rebellion has plunged his country into its worst humanitarian crisis since World War II and warned that “millions of refugees” could soon head for Europe to escape starvation.

Boy sleeps in his mother's arms as she listens to a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops delegation talk to internally displaced people at a camp iin Kharkiv, Ukraine, June 21. The delegation was visiting the camp for people forced to flee fighting between rebel separatist forces and the Ukrainian army in the eastern part of the country. Now, a Ukrainian bishops is predicting the political situation could cause starvation and mass refugees. (CNS photo/Sergey Kozlov, EPA)

Boy sleeps in his mother’s arms as she listens to a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops delegation talk to internally displaced people at a camp iin Kharkiv, Ukraine, June 21. The delegation was visiting the camp for people forced to flee fighting between rebel separatist forces and the Ukrainian army in the eastern part of the country. Now, a Ukrainian bishops is predicting the political situation could cause starvation and mass refugees. (CNS photo/Sergey Kozlov, EPA)

“Huge numbers are now caught between hammer and anvil; the separatists aren’t looking after them, and the Ukrainian government won’t care for them because they haven’t declared which side they’re on,” said Auxiliary Bishop Jan Sobilo of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia.

“Not since World War II have we seen such poverty and destitution,” he told CNS July 29.

“People are continually arriving at our Catholic communities asking for food, medicines, money and shelter,” he said, noting they included young widows with small children, whose husbands have stayed in the war zone or been killed.

The bishop spoke as the Catholic Caritas organization also warned of growing starvation and desperation in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine.

Bishop Sobilo told CNS lack of water currently posed the biggest problem in eastern Ukraine, where food prices were three times higher than in the rest of the country.

He added that local children would be unable to start the new school year because most schools were closed and said the Ukrainian authorities had hushed up a spiraling rate of suicides.

“Whereas family members and friends were ready to help for a month or two, most have now exhausted their money and savings and had to ask the refugees to move on,” Bishop Sobilo said.

“Many elderly educated people, who previously had jobs, have been unable to face begging on the streets and have thrown themselves from windows and bridges. Such people often have no means of survival and no one to turn to, and have ended up starving.”

Although Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied direct Russian involvement in Ukraine, church leaders repeatedly have accused Moscow of military intervention in the war. A June United Nations report said more than 6,400 people have died and 16,000 have been wounded.

In a July 28 interview with Germany’s Cologne-based Dom Radio, Andrij Waskowycz, president of Caritas Ukraine, said 700,000 Ukrainians had now left the country, while 1.4 million more were internally displaced by the fighting and lacked basic necessities.

“He said a February cease-fire agreement had failed to prevent daily skirmishes and conflicts, adding that at least 100,000 people were now without water in the separatist-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Bishop Sobilo said church leaders had been promised access to Catholics by separatist forces, but had been barred from visiting the “occupied territories” by the Ukrainian troops controlling the makeshift borders.

He added that Western aid often failed to reach those in need and was “not always the right kind of help.” He said it was “more effective and less wasteful” for church donors to send money.

“This is a war of oligarchs, and any future peace will depend on the conversion of those oligarchs in Russia and Ukraine who’ve kept the conflict going with their lies,” the bishop said.

“The West should get ready to accept the millions of homeless, hungry refugees who will soon head across central and western Ukraine toward Europe,” he said. “Pope Francis has urged help for refugees from Africa, and we now have parts of Africa right here. Unless solidarity is shown with them, countless innocent people will die simply because they happened to live in an unlucky place during a conflict ignited by those with a personal interest in war and suffering.”

 

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Pope Francis wants child migrants at U.S. border to be ‘welcomed and protected’

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Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — The Vatican’s secretary of state pledged full support for addressing the issue of child migrants streaming out Central America in search of safety and family reunification in the United States.

Pope Francis, meanwhile, described the situation a “humanitarian emergency” and called for the international community to act.

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas, June 18. The federal agency provided media tours June 18 of two locations in Brownsville and Nogales, Ariz., that have been central to processing at least 52,000 unaccompanied minors who have been detained in the U.S. this fiscal year. (CNS photo/Eric Gay, pool via Reuters)

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas, June 18. The federal agency provided media tours June 18 of two locations in Brownsville and Nogales, Ariz., that have been central to processing at least 52,000 unaccompanied minors who have been detained in the U.S. this fiscal year. (CNS photo/Eric Gay, pool via Reuters)

Speaking at the Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretariat July 14, Cardinal Pietro Parolin repeated a recent call of bishops in five countries for Catholics and society at large to lend a helping hand for the thousands of young migrants traveling through Mexico and often arriving unaccompanied in the United States.

“Given these migratory facts, we urgently need to overcome primitive misgivings and again propose common strategies at the subregional, regional and world levels that include all sectors of society,” Cardinal Parolin said in a speech attended by clergy and the foreign ministers of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

“Their numbers grow daily exponentially,” he said of the Central Americans abandoning their countries. “Whether they travel for reasons of poverty, violence or the hope of uniting with families on the other side of the border, it is urgent to protect and assist them, because their frailty is greater and they’re defenseless, they’re at the mercy of any abuse or misfortune.”

The cardinal traveled to Mexico as countries in the region came to grips with an increase in the number of Central American migrants not seen in decades, and an influx so unexpected and massive that U.S. officials have had difficulties properly processing those arriving at their border. It also came as countries such as Mexico confront longstanding issues such as crimes committed against migrants with impunity and an indifference toward providing protection to Central Americans traveling through the country, even as Mexico complains of the treatment experienced by Mexicans living in the United States illegally.

The plight of the child migrants has the full attention of Pope Francis, who sent a message in advance of the forum, jointly sponsored by Mexico and the Vatican.

“I wish to also call attention to the tens of thousands of children that emigrate alone, unaccompanied to escape violence and poverty,” Pope Francis said in the message, dated July 11 and read July 14 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to Mexico.

“This is the category of migrants from Central America and Mexico itself that cross the United States’ border under extreme conditions and pursuing a hope that, for the majority, will be in vain.

“This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected,” Pope Francis continued.

“Many people forced to emigrate suffer, and often, die tragically; many of their rights are violated, they are obliged to separate from their families and, unfortunately, continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes,” the pope said.

The pope also called for information campaigns on the risks of migrating and a commitment to developing the poor countries of Central America.

Cardinal Parolin committed the church to finding solutions and offering assistance — something already carried out by a string of Catholic-run migrant shelters stretching the length of Mexico, which offer spiritual and material support for the thousands of Central Americans transiting the country, often atop a train known as “La Bestia” (The Beast) for the way it maims so many migrants.

“The church will always support at the national and international level any initiative directed at the adoption of correct policies. No institution, not even the state, possesses the necessary economic, political or informative resources or social capital or legitimacy to resolve the root problems with emigration,” the cardinal said.

“It is evident that the phenomenon of migration cannot be resolved only with legislative measures or adopting public policies, however good, and much less only with law enforcement and security forces,” he continued. “The solution of the migration problem goes through an in-depth cultural and social conversion that permits passage from the ‘cultural of closure’ to a ‘culture of reception and meeting.’”

Central America suffers from high homicide rates, gang violence and some of the worst poverty in the hemisphere, motivating many people to leave for the United States, where they seek safety and earn money to support families left behind.

But Central American children have been abandoning their countries of origin in recent months, especially as rumors spread in the region that any youngster arriving in the United States will be allowed to stay put. Catholics working in Central America and with migrants and government officials say many parents see this as an opportunity to remove their children from dangerous circumstances, but also reunifying long-separated families.

“Many (migrants) have family in the United States and they’re looking to reunite,” Sobeida Mejia, a regional director for child migrants with the Honduran childhood and family institute, told Catholic News Service.

Mexico has announced a measure to make migration more orderly — especially on its oft-neglected southern border with Guatemala — and to respect the human rights of those traveling through the country.

“In Mexico, in Central America, in Guatemala, in Honduras, in El Salvador, in the United States, migration has a child’s face, and it obliges us to reflect more deeply and in short time frames,” said Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade Kuribrena.

“Respect for human rights, safeguarding against trafficking, exploitation and organized crime and access to health services and consular assistance must be priorities of public policy in the transit countries,” he said.

 

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