Pope Francis made his first trip to Mexico, arriving last Friday and leaving yesterday. Mexico as the most Catholic country in the Americas, as well as a country that receives and sends migrants, was eager for this visit.
The Pope was welcomed to the country by President Enrique Pena Nieto. During his six days in Mexico the Pope spoke on family, poverty, corruption, violence – and migration.
Migration was a major theme during the first big mass held on Sunday in Ecatepec, a city in the State of Mexico. Pope Francis invited Mexicans to give priority to initiatives which make the country a place of opportunity: "I want to invite you today to be at the forefront, to take initiative in all initiatives that help make this blessed Mexican land a land of opportunity." The Pontiff added, "Where there is no need to migrate to dream; where there is no need to be exploited to work; where there is no need to make the despair and poverty of many the opportunism of a few...A land that does not have to mourn men and women, youth an children who end up destroyed in the hands of traffickers of death."
Halfway through his trip, Pope Francis headed south to the state of Chiapas, which borders on Guatemala. This region of the country is known for its ill treatment of Central American migrants. However, during his visit to the state, the pontiff chose to focus on the marginalization of the indigenous population in the region. The homily was attended by 100,000 people from various ethnic groups in the state, as well as Guatemalans and other Central Americans.
On Wednesday, the Pope headed to the northern border of Mexico. In Ciudad Juarez, a city that sits opposite El Paso, Texas, Pope Francis delivered the most anticipated message in terms of migration. During the homily, Pope Francis finally alluded to Central American migrants, "Here in Ciudad Juarez, as border zone, thousands of migrants from Central America and other countries are concentrated, without forgetting the many Mexicans who also look to pass 'to the other side,' a path, a pathway loaded with terrible injustices, enslaved, kidnapped, extorted, any of our brothers are the result of the business of human trafficking, trafficking in persons." He went on:
We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis in recent years has led to the migration of thousands of people, either by train, road and even foot, crossing thousands of kilometers of mountains, deserts, and inhospitable roads. This human tragedy of forced migration today is a global phenomenon. This crisis can be measured in numbers, but we want to measure it in names, stories, and families... Let us ask God for the gift of conversion, the gift of tears, let us have an open heart, like the Ninevites, to his call in the face of the suffering of so many men and women… There is always time to change, always an opportunity, always time to implore the mercy of the Father.
The pontiff also recognized civil society organizations working in favor of the rights of migrants, as well as the work of women, other religious figures, and lay people. He praised them for being in the frontlines, often risking their own lives. He said, "With their lives they are prophets of mercy..."
Before ending the homily, Pope Francis took a moment to recognize the people followed the proceedings on the U.S. side of the border, at the Sun Bowl stadium of the University of Texas at El Paso. He closed by saying. "no border could prevent us from sharing, Thank you brothers and sisters, thank you brothers and sisters in El Paso for making us feel like one family and one Christian community."
Prior that final mass, the Pope stopped to pray for migrants at a cross overlooking the Rio Grande on the border between Mexico and the United States. The cross was surrounded by old shoes and sandals to symbolize the plight of migrants who die trying to cross into the United States. He then blessed both sides of the border and waved to immigrants on the U.S. side of the border, who were permitted to stand at the fence.
Originally, the Pope had planned to cross the border into the United States, which would have been an extremely political statement amidst the immigration debate in the United States. Even though he did not cross the border, Pope Francis managed to insert himself into the U.S. immigration debate. On the sixth and final day of his visit, just before returning to Rome, Pope Francis made one last statement on migration when asked about Donald Trump: "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian."