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Easter with Our Migrant Brothers and Sisters

April 9, 2024

From the Office for Social Ministry

“May the Risen One make the light of his face shine upon migrants and on all those who are passing through a period of economic difficulty and offer them consolation and hope in their moment of need." - Pope Francis Easter Message March 31, 2024

Pope Francis’s Easter morning message of prayer for consolation and hope for all in need echoes similar sentiments he shared with bishops visiting the Darien Gap in Central America a few days before Holy Week. In his correspondence to their meeting called “Easter with Our Migrant Brothers and Sisters: An Encuentro of Border Bishops of Colombia Panama and Costa Rica,” our Holy Father quoted the story from the gospel of Matthew 26:7, in which the disciples asked Jesus where they should prepare his Passover meal. Our Holy Father said that if Jesus were to answer today, he would say: “In the Darién, with our migrant brothers and sisters. It is there that they are waiting for us, on the shore of a sea of tears and death that unites men and women, adults and children from the most diverse latitudes.”

The Darién Gapis one of the most dangerous regions where migrants and refugees from Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Haiti, and other parts of the world courageously trek through a wild lawless jungle on their journey for a better future. Many do not make it to the other side. As Pope Francis pointed out, “With its multicultural facet, this human caravan passes through the Darién Gap, a jungle that is a triumph of nature, but which today has become a real Via Crucis that not only highlights the limits of migration governance in the Western hemisphere, but also feeds a thriving business that allows for the accumulation of illicit profits from human trafficking.”

We accompanied the bishops at the beginning of their meeting as they went to the Darien Gap to welcome migrants emerging from the jungle at the remote frontier village of Llanas Blancas. During the past year alone, more than a half a million migrants attempted this treacherous passage wearing only their wet clothes while carrying small garbage bags of their life possessions. Many lost their lives. Those who survive the deadly journey are received by impoverished local indigenous tribes who transport the migrants in canoes made from tree trunks for a 3-hour ride on the river where they all, including so many crying children, disembark barefoot, exhausted, and hungry. The bishops welcomed three small boats arrive, each packed with more than a dozen traumatized passengers: the first canoe was full of Chinese migrants; the second full of Haitian families; and the third overflowing with Venezuelans. They all filed into a long military tent where each traveler had to register and have their “garbage-bag luggage” examined. Doctors without borders, who had been providing medical treatment, were no longer allowed there after they reported that migrant were being abused by border officials. However, the famished families were able to receive food and temporary shelter of tarp-roofed “holding areas” providing minimal protection from the sun and rain and ground mats to rest on. The bishops’ presence drew a large crowd as the Apostolic Nuncio from Panama used a loudspeaker to deliver a message of hope in the Pope’s own personal words:

Dear migrants, I would like to be there with you at this time. I too am the son of migrants who set out in search of a better future. There were moments in which they found themselves with nothing, to the point of suffering from hunger, empty-handed, but with their hearts full of hope…Our migrant brothers and sisters--you represent the suffering flesh of Christ, when you find themselves forced to abandon their homeland and face the risks and tribulations of a difficult journey, having found no other way out. Migrant brothers and sisters, never forget your human dignity. Do not be afraid to look others in the eye, you too are part of the human family and of the family of God’s children. May Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin keep you. Fraternally yours, Pope Francis”

After a prayerful collective blessing, the bishops ventured into the crowd, offering individual blessings and listening to and talking story with migrant families. There was also a busload of basic essential supplies which were distributed as the bishops departed leaving the local pastoral workers reinforced by a commitment of an increased presence of Scalabrini missionary women and men joining the Claretians and lay workers ministering on the border. As the bishops journeyed back to their meeting, tears flowed freely, moved by the encounter of Christ in those they had met. The following day, the bishops with deepened determination, passed a declaration of solidarity committing to collaborative regional pastoral care with the migrants. This action resonated with the closing words of Pope Francis' Easter message: “May the Risen Christ guide all persons of goodwill to unite themselves in solidarity, in order to address together the many challenges that loom over the poorest families in their search for a better life and happiness.For more on this moving witness to a Via Crucis passage today towards Easter hope, please see the US Conference of Catholic Bishops website www.usccb.org/news/2024/pope-urges-church-see-face-christ-migrants which calls all to welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrant families across all borders this Easter season and beyond. Mahalo