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Amid wall debate, pope says fear of migration makes us crazy

Pope Francis waves to the crowd gathered for the Angelus noon prayer he recited from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Jan. 20, 2019. Francis has prayed for peace in Colombia after the Bogota bombing at a police academy. He told the faithful in St. Peter's Square on Sunday that he wanted to assure the Colombian people of his closeness after the "grave terrorist attack" on Jan. 17 that claimed 21 lives. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis said Wednesday (Jan. 23) that fear of migration is “making us crazy” as he began a trip to Central America amid a standoff over President Trump’s promised wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and a new caravan of migrants heading north.

Francis was asked by reporters about the proposed border wall Wednesday on the way to Panama, where he is looking to leave the sex abuse scandals buffeting his papacy behind. Francis responded: “It is the fear that makes us crazy.”

The Roman Catholic Church’s first Latin American pope and the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, Francis has made the plight of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy. He is also expected to offer words of encouragement to young people gathered in Panama for World Youth Day, the church’s once-every-three-year pep rally that aims to invigorate the next generation of Catholics in their faith.

Panama Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa said Francis’ message is likely to resonate with young Central Americans who see their only future free of violence and poverty in migrating to the U.S. — “young people who often fall into the hands of drug traffickers and so many other realities that our young people face.”

Workers clean the Suchiate River on the border between Guatemala and Mexico as Central American migrants wait to their migration issues at the bridge, top, near Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas State, Mexico, on Jan. 19, 2019. Hundreds of Central American migrants are walking and hitchhiking through the region as part of a new caravan of migrants hoping to reach the United States. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

The pope is expected to urge young people to create their own opportunities, while calling on governments do their share as well.

The visit is taking place as the U.S. government remains partly shut down in a standoff between the Trump administration and Democrats over funding for Trump’s promised border wall.

Francis famously has called for “bridges, not walls.” After celebrating Mass in 2016 on the Mexican side of the U.S. border, he denounced anyone who wants to build a wall to keep out migrants as “not Christian.”

Crowds are expected to be smaller than usual for this World Youth Day — only about 150,000 people had registered as of last week — but thousands more will certainly throng Francis’ main events, which include a vigil and a final Mass on Sunday. The Vatican conceded that the January date doesn’t suit school vacations in Europe or North America, both of which typically send huge numbers of pilgrims to World Youth Day gatherings.

Pilgrims attend the opening ceremony and Mass of World Youth Day Panama 2019, in Panama City, on Jan. 22, 2019. Pope Francis will visit Panama on Jan. 23-27. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

Francis’ trip, the first in a year packed with foreign travel, comes at a critical moment in the papacy as the Catholic hierarchy globally is facing a crisis in credibility for covering up decades of cases of priests molesting young people.

The pope is expected to soon rule on the fate of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the high-powered U.S. archbishop accused of molesting minors and adults. And he is hosting church leaders at the Vatican next month on trying to chart a way forward for the global church.

Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said there were no plans for Francis to meet with abuse survivors in Panama. Central America hasn’t yet seen the explosion of sex abuse cases that have shattered trust in the Catholic hierarchy in Chile, the U.S. and other parts of the world.

This is the first papal visit to Panama since St. John Paul II was there during a 1983 regional tour that famously included an unscheduled stop at the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador. Romero had been gunned down by right-wing death squads three years earlier, at the start of El Salvador’s civil war, for having spoken out on behalf of the poor.

Salvadoran bishops had hoped Francis would follow suit and make a stop in El Salvador this time to pay his respects at Romero’s tomb since Francis canonized him in October. But the Vatican said a Salvador leg was never really in the cards.

Nevertheless, Gisotti said Romero would likely loom large at the Panama gathering, given he is such a point of reference for young Central American Catholics who grew up learning about his defense of the poor.

The Panama visit is also the first by a pope since the Vatican embassy played a crucial role during the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama, when dictator Manuel Noriega took refuge there and requested asylum on Christmas Eve after four days on the run trying to escape U.S. troops.

Noriega eventually surrendered, bringing to an end one of the more unusual U.S. military operations: It involved U.S. troops blasting heavy metal and rock music — including Van Halen’s “Panama” — at the embassy to try to force Noriega out.

Noriega, a onetime U.S. ally, eventually served a 17-year drug sentence in the United States. He died in 2017 after his final years were spent in a Panamanian prison for the murder of political opponents during his 1983-89 regime.

Pope Francis confirmed to reporters aboard the papal plane that he plans to go to Japan in November. The pope also said he wants to visit Iraq, but that local church leaders have told him that the security situation is not yet right.

This year, the pontiff has already scheduled trips to United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bulgaria and Macedonia, and a trip to Madagascar is rumored.

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Nicole Winfield

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  • Imagine of Pope Francis went to the border and walked across into a checkpoint with a crowd of migrants.

  • Here we go again! More projection coming from the pope. There is no fear, and I’m ashamed to have to even say it out loud. The plain and simple fact that unchecked immigration does a disservice to everyone.

    By allowing uncheck immigration we aid and abet individuals and families getting used and abused in this country. Unable to be fully integrated into society sets up a situation where they must constantly fear being exposed, causing fear which forces them to associate out of necessity with less than desirable groups to get what they need. This leads to two cultures that are not equal at best, and at worse puts unauthorized immigrants into more violent situations. We are not helping them.

    Then there is the issue with security. Some unauthorized immigrants are dangerous that is a fact. Most are not, however just as we need TSA checks at the airport to weed out the few who want to do violence, so too is our immigration system doing the same. We see story after story of some individuals who do real damage by breaking laws up to and including murder, rape. That is why we have an immigration system to prevent those who do as such from coming into the country.

    Now can our immigration system be improved? Yes it can, and it needs to include equal access for immigrants from various backgrounds and social standings. We can still welcome the poor, the hungry and the huddled masses, but no where does it say we need to allow criminals to come in either. Sane immigration is the only solution.

  • What qualifies as “unchecked” immigration? What most don’t want to acknowledge here about illegal immigration is that it is a cycle. Ebbing and flowing from both sides of the border depending on the economy.

    Please be more specific here.

    Too many people of color? The long and successful history of family based immigration and diversity visas? Conservative plan to attack legal immigration methods “Merit based immigration” are really nothing but a white supremacist sounding board. They serve no legitimate purpose.

    “By allowing uncheck immigration we aid and abet individuals and families getting used and abused in this country. Unable to be fully integrated into society sets up a situation where they must constantly fear being exposed, causing fear which forces them to associate out of necessity with less than desirable groups to get what they need.”

    Which is why saner immigration laws is a far better course of action than walls, goon squads and corrupt diversions of public funds to the private detention industry. Manual labor visas and saner penalties for non-criminal illegal presence would solve most of our problems fairly cheaply. Plus it would limit illegal aliens to only the worst of the worst. Smaller numbers, easier targets for enforcement.

    But it does nothing for appeals to bigotry and panic. So it is never considered by opportunistic conservatives. (GW Bush had the right idea that immigrants can easily be the new backbone of Republicans if they could shed appeals to bigotry)

    “That is why we have an immigration system to prevent those who do as such from coming into the country”

    Too bad our current immigration system is not guided by practical concerns, labor needs or sane thinking. Too much influence by people trying to use it to control the demographic nature of the country and appeal to obsolete economic concepts has turned it into a barely functional mess. Thanks to fairly arbitrary rules, the countries with the largest numbers of people willing to come here are the ones with the longest wait times for processing. Our immigration system is not meeting its real needs here.

  • “AND it is from a Pope” .

    msgr. charles pope is the author of the ncregister article link . nice convenient pun .

    compared to his critics, pope francis is a solid theologian and follower of jesus .

    the article linked is not bad . not great either . it is a on the one hand, on the other hand analysis . it tells us to be moderate in our positions and to avoid the extremes . as such “pope” is closer to the Pope than to trump . pope francis tells us to see that there is a crisis, there are people at risk, and that the christian reaction to work hard for solutions .

    trump in the meanwhile only exaggerates what is happening, embroideries the facts of what is happening, and denies any human responsibility for what is happening . all the while he has promoted u.s. policies that limit people coming to america, end safe havens some have found here and sends people back to the disasters they fled .

    to repeat the pope sees what is occurring and is attempting to move people to realistic action to real emergencies .

    trump is washing his hands to the situation . ‘not my problem’ is his only mantra . hard to know why he even wanted to be president .

  • “By allowing uncheck immigration….”

    the caravan were groups of people coming to our borders, going to the american representatives there and asking for asylum . that is hardly “unchecked immigration” . most of your descriptions of the problem of unintegrated folks ignore the numbers of people who are integrated, have jobs, work, pay taxes, keep the laws and want to become citizens .

    we can agree that we should not tolerate those who cause problems . but you have to agree to a road to citizenship for those who are working out quite well .

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