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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Pope Francis bravely brings spiritual focus to immigration

"Francis, the first pope from the Americas, has designed his trip through Mexico to replicate the route migrants take -- southern Chiapas state, where Central Americans arrive on their way to the U.S.; Michoacan, source of a large percentage of Mexican immigrants to Southern California and elsewhere; and, now, the border."- Los Angeles Times

He said a blessing, with Texas on the nearby horizon

While Republican "Blinky bottle Rubio" puts on a religious symbol display when cameras on him, he doesn't seem to pay much attention to the message of Catholic Pontif Pope Francis, who demonstrated spiritual compasson for immigrants in Mexico.

It seems to me, the Roman Catholic leaders of the US, like Senator Rubio, should have attended the Mass led today by Pope Francis, celebrated in Juarez, on the US-Mexico border. Pope Francis is demonstrating compassion for Hispanic immigrants!

Los Angeles Times reports:
Pope Francis decries 'human tragedy' that forces migration in landmark Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border
Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Cindy Carcamo and Tracy WilkinsonContact Reporters

Pope Francis concluded an emotional, provocative journey through Mexico Wednesday, symbolically tracing the path of migrants headed for the United States and ending up at the border that divides and unites two societies.

Thousands of people gathered on both sides of the border—an election-year lightening rod that represents the tumultuous issue of immigration—to say Mass with the pope and hear his message of the need for fair wages, human dignity and an end to the violence convulsing Mexico.

Pope Francis at the U.S.-Mexico border

Pope Francis during a brief stop near the international border with the United States of America to greet the faithful from across the border, in Ciudad Juarez. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In a ceremony at the border before the mass, the pope mounted a ramp where one large cross and several smaller ones were posed to represent migrants killed in their attempts to reach the U.S. He said a blessing, with Texas on the nearby horizon. Those gathered on the levee waved and shouted, "Te queremos, papa,"--We love you, pope.

The pope did not cross into the United States but stayed here in the scruffy city of Ciudad Juarez, once infamous for a sky-high murder rate , especially of young women, many employed by foreign-owned factories along the border. But his message was clearly intended for both sides.

But his messages were clearly intended for both sides.
Speaking earlier in the day and in the same blunt style that has characterized all of his speeches in Mexico, he advocated for fair pay and reasonable workloads to an audience that included workers from the maquiladoras, or factories, as well as their owners and other members of the business elite.

The minimum wage in Juarez is less than five dollars a day, and hours are long. He listened as one woman, Deysi Flores Gamez, complained that parents toil such long days and nights, they can’t care properly for their children, who often stray into a life of crime.

God will hold accountable the enslavers of our day,” he said, speaking, as he has throughout, in his native Spanish.

Juarez sits across the Rio Grande from El Paso, where people were also gathering to hear the pope via large television screens. Some approached the levee that marks the U.S. spot closest to Mexico on the river's banks.

Claudia Diaz, a 44-year-old woman without legal status who lives in New Mexico, walked onto the levee past Border Patrol agents and a highly fortified U.S-Mexico border fence.

She said she wasn't scared and instead focused on finding her seat in a VIP section--the closest spot to the pope on the U.S. side.

"This right here, what the pope is doing, is a miracle because he has permitted for people like us to be at this place—in these lands that are so vigilados, so militarized where so many have died trying to cross this river," she said pointing to the Rio Grande, which was mostly parched.

"For us to be here at this moment is very big."

After the pope's blessing at the border, after the pontiff had headed back toward the Juarez fairgrounds for the mass, Diaz and most of the people on the levee sat quietly but couldn't hear much.

Diaz was weeping. "It really was beautiful," she said.

"This is so unjust--being here on this side and not to be able to cross and be over there with him," she said, gesturing toward Mexico. "We just have to be content with being on this side."

Diaz, originally from Juarez, said many of her cousins, friends and her mother-in-law were attending the mass on the other side.

"It's sad here on our side because we can't even hear the mass. They couldn't even put a speaker here so we could hear it."

Earlier, the pope visited a notorious prison here, saying he could not ignore the most marginalized of Mexican society and blasting a culture that incarcerates those trapped “in a cycle of violence and crime.”

“We have already lost many decades thinking and believing that everything will be resolved by isolating, separating, incarcerating, and ridding ourselves of problems, believing that these policies really solve problems,” the pope said after hearing a female inmate speak on behalf of the prison's population and embracing her.

“We have forgotten to focus on what must truly be our concern: people’s lives; their lives, those of their families, and those who have suffered because of this cycle of violence,” he said.

Inmates filed in a line to greet the pope individually, as a band played “Besame Mucho”—Kiss me a lot.

Inmates had spiffed up the facility ahead of the pope's arrival, painting and removing trash. They—men and women—wore identical uniforms emblazoned with the name of the prison.

“From inside this prison,” the Pope continued, “you must work hard to change the situations which create the most exclusion. Speak with your loved ones, tell them of your experiences, help them to put an end to this cycle of violence and exclusion.

"The one who has suffered the greatest pain, and we could say ‘has experienced hell,’ can become a prophet in society. Work so that this society which uses people and discards them will not go on claiming victims.”

In a moment of silent prayer at the end of the pope's message, some of the inmates could be seen weeping.

The pope was handed the keys to the city after disembarking from his plane earlier in the morning as a band played a tango in his honor.

Ciudad Juarez is a city that is coping with all of Mexico’s troubles-- killing, drug trafficking, poverty, corruption and, especially, the often-perilous migration of Mexicans to the United States.

Francis, the first pope from the Americas, has designed his trip through Mexico to replicate the route migrants take -- southern Chiapas state, where Central Americans arrive on their way to the U.S.; Michoacan, source of a large percentage of Mexican immigrants to Southern California and elsewhere; and, now, the border.

As he wraps up his six-day trip through Mexico, the pope was planning to pray along the border, giving recognition to those who attempt to cross, even as he urged Mexico to become a nation where it was safe “to dream” and not have to abandon.

The faithful were gathering on both sides of the border long before daylight, and long lines were forming near the fairgrounds in anticipation of the pope's mass scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

Lisa Ayoub Rodriguez, 35, wheeled her father-in-law from Indiana along the barricades toward the site of the papal Mass. It will be her second time seeing a pope in Mexico: she saw John Paul II in Mexico City after he canonized Juan Diego, the Indian credited with a vision of the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of the Americas.

"I know he's just a man, but he's also the leader of the church, a humble extension of God's hand," Ayoub said as she and her husband took turns with the wheelchair.

They live in El Paso, have followed news of the violence in Juarez; the father-in-law was hesitant to cross the border. But they were reassured by what they saw Wednesday: scores of volunteers greeting them and singing with tambourines, police and security manning the barricades.

"Juarez has been through a lot. For him to be here brings this energy," she said.

Of the 215,000 tickets distributed for Wednesday's Mass, at least 10,000 went to residents of El Paso, who will be crossing the border to attend.

An additional 4,000 people were expected to traverse from the U.S. to join a human chain protecting the pope's 25-mile route from the airport to the border Mass.

Scores of volunteers arrived at 4 a.m. to line the metal barricades. Among them were those who live in this border city, those who relocated to Texas during the past decade of violence, and visitors from the U.S.

Juarez not long ago was the murder capital of Mexico, at a time of skyrocketing homicide rates. It was also infamous for killings that singled out women, usually workers at the thriving maquiladora industries that supply the U.S. with clothing, television sets, snacks and other consumer products.

Much of the killing subsided after deals were struck with drug gangs. But kidnappings and extortion remain rampant.

The pope has not been shy in criticizing government officials and even his own clergy for their failure to look after the poor and downtrodden. It remained to be seen whether Francis would meet with the most iconic victims in Mexico, families of 43 college students kidnapped and presumably killed by corrupt authorities. The families have been invited to the Mass in Juarez but a private meeting was not scheduled.

The issue of drug violence came up even among three altar boys who were waiting to enter the papal Mass in their red-and-white outfits and silver crosses. They came with a church group from Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua, where they grew up distrusting police.

"The only ones who protect us are the cartel of Juarez, the narcos. They defend us," said Isai Solano, 14, while eating fried beans and salsa from a plastic bag.

He especially distrusts the federal police who, despite all the public rhetoric about things becoming safer here, he said still act with impunity.

"The federales kill people and leave them and nothing happens," he said as several Juarez police officers stood nearby.

Daniela Hernandez, 17, was selling drinks and chicharones from a stand outside one of the entrances to the papal Mass. Others were chopping mango and jicama, then sprinkling them with chili and a squirt of lime.

Hernandez’s neighborhood is still plagued by robberies, but things have been peaceful ahead of the pope's visit; she said she hopes it stays that way afterward.

"I think people will reflect on all that happened and that the Mass will help us," she said. "The bad will turn to good."

Jaime Cortez, 59, sat on a street corner near the fairgrounds playing guitar and singing under a banner message for Pope Francis "La familia Cortez Te ama"; the Cortez family loves you.

"Raise your hands! Shake your body! Applaud!" Cortez shouted as he played, and the Cortez family as well as passersby complied, smiling.

"It's a day of celebration here," he said.

The family, like many here, lives on both sides of the border. Cortez moved to El Paso 30 years ago to work in a factory making military uniforms. Today, he was wearing a Texas Longhorns cap. But he loves Juarez, visits weekly and would like to see it emerge past the cycle of violence.

"You used to be able to go out in a street corner like this at 2 in the morning and talk like we are," he said.

In El Paso, just across the border from Juarez, Raul Gallegos, an Uber driver, had about the only vehicle downtown at 7 a. m. Wednesday. He said he'd never seen the city so quiet during a weekday morning.

He passed several parked police vehicles with their lights on during this drive to the Cordova bridge. The security, especially the multiple blockades, seemed a bit much, he said.

"It would have been different if he would've come here," he said of Pope Francis.

Along the pope's travel route in Juarez, vendors sold pope caps, flags and bracelets while volunteers distributed packed breakfasts and clutched blankets and jackets, hopping to stay warm in the chilly morning.

Julia Nunez, 49, lives in the nearby Juarez Valley, in Praxedis Guerrero. She works in the maquiladora factories that fuel the local economy. So did her son, Ivan Nunez. In 2011, he was killed, beaten in the street. Now, she keeps to herself.

"I don't go out, I don't talk to anyone and I don't have any problems," the volunteer said as she stood with other members of the human chain in their white Pope Francis T-shirts near the fairgrounds where the papal Mass will be held Wednesday.

"But that's living in fear!" Another woman said.

I hope he brings us peace, that peopplefeel we don't have tolive with violence withfear, thatwe have solidarity," she said.  Her 22-year-old daughter came too, and said the Pope gives her hopse that things can improve.  "He's very sincere, he speaks the truth and he speaks with all his heart," said America Alonso, a stay-at-home mom with a 5-year-old son she hopes to raise here.

Volunteer Carmen Aguirre, 56, returned to Juarez  from the Texas panhandle for the event, but said her family abandoned the Juarez Valley during the worst of the violence and won't be back soon.

Ther's a lot of desolation and abandoned houses. They don't want to return because of their kids," she said of elatives now in El Paso. But Pope Francis gives her hope.  "We have this faith that we are going to escape this violence, that the place will be cleansed for our children and grandchildren," she said as police trucks and buses passed, headed to the fairgrounds.
Nunez nodded.

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