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Fear of Migration Makes Us Crazy: Pope Francis

Pope Francis confirmed to reporters aboard the papal plane that he plans to go to Japan in November.

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Pope Francis
Pope Francis arrives to talk to journalists during his flight from Rome to Panama City, Jan. 23, 2019, where he will attend the World Youth Day. VOA

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

Reporters asked Francis about the proposed border wall 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 pontiff’s plane touched down in Panama City in the afternoon and he was met by President Juan Carlos Varela and first lady Lorena Castillo, who escorted him along a red carpet laid on the tarmac.

Greeters wave flags

Spectators waved Panamanian flags in greeting and shouted, “This is the youth of the pope!” After a brief welcoming ceremony, he was driven away from the airport and did not have any more activities scheduled for the evening.

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President Donald Trump reviews border wall prototypes in San Diego, March 13, 2018. VOA

Francis landed as Venezuela’s protracted political crisis flared up, with the opposition president of the country’s National Assembly declaring himself interim president and several regional countries, including the United States, recognizing him.

The Vatican had said previously that the pope would refrain from explicitly referring to Venezuela while in Panama, but the developments ensured he would face questions about the South American nation during the trip.

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-years 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.”

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People take pictures as Pope Francis arrives at Tocumen international airport in Panama City, Jan. 23, 2019. VOA

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.”

Smaller turnout seen

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.

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.

Panema, Pope Francis
Carlos Felice, a 37-year-old Venezuelan living in Panama for five years, right, confesses to local Catholic priest Gabriel Agustin Guardia in an outdoor confessional, after exercising with his dog at Omar Park in Panama City, Jan. 23, 2019. Pope Francis arrived in the country later in the day. VOA

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 Pope 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.

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A man looks out at the U.S. border where workers are replacing parts of the U.S. border wall for a higher one, in Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 19, 2018. VOA

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.

’89 invasion of Panama

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, ending one of the more unusual U.S. military operations: It involved U.S. troops blasting heavy metal and rock music at the embassy to try to force Noriega out.

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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 the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bulgaria and Macedonia. (VOA)

Next Story

Trump Announces Migration Deal with Mexico, Averting Threatened Tariffs

U.S. President Donald Trump said late Friday that the United States and Mexico had reached a deal

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Trump, Migration, Deal, Mexico
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump hold hands and wave at supporters as they walk across the South Lawn on their return to the White House, June 7, 2019, in Washington. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump said late Friday that the United States and Mexico had reached a deal on migration to avert tariffs.

“I am pleased to inform you that The United States of America has reached a signed agreement with Mexico. The Tariffs scheduled to be implemented by the U.S. on Monday, against Mexico, are hereby indefinitely suspended,” he tweeted.

“Mexico, in turn, has agreed to take strong measures to stem the tide of Migration through Mexico, and to our Southern Border. This is being done to greatly reduce, or eliminate, Illegal Immigration coming from Mexico and into the United States,” Trump said.

Earlier Friday, Trump had tweeted that there was a “good chance” the two sides would reach a deal to avert tariffs over the surge of migrants across the U.S. border. However, he added, “If we are unable to make the deal, Mexico will begin paying Tariffs at the 5% level on Monday!”

Trump, Migration, Deal, Mexico
An employee fuels up a truck with a cargo trailer loaded with goods to import, at the “Fletes Sotelo” moving company, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, June 7, 2019. Companies were rushing to ship as many goods as possible out of Mexico to get ahead of possible tariffs threatened by President Donald Trump. VOA

U.S. and Mexican officials returned to the negotiating table Friday for a third day of talks to find a way to stem the migrant flow.

Effect on hiring?

Trump’s trade wars with Mexico and other countries appeared to have spooked American companies into putting the brakes on hiring. They added just 75,000 jobs in May, far fewer than the 180,000 economists expected, the Labor Department reported Friday.

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Although the jobless rate held steady at a 50-year low of 3.6%, Friday’s figures were the latest signal that the U.S. economy, while healthy, is weakening. Manufacturers, which are particularly sensitive to trade disputes, added only 3,000 jobs, extending an anemic streak of hiring in the sector.

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A migration official checks passengers on a bus, at a checkpoint on the highway in Tapachula, Chiapas state, Mexico, June 7, 2019. VOA
 U.S. and Mexican officials discussed a deal calling for Mexico to sharply increase patrols of its border with Guatemala to curb migration, The Washington Post reported, with the deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops. The newspaper said Mexico and the U.S. could overhaul asylum rules throughout the region, requiring Central Americans to first seek refuge in Mexico rather than traveling through it to reach the U.S.

With such a plan in place, the United States could send Guatemala asylum seekers to Mexico, and those from Honduras and El Salvador to Guatemala.

Earlier Friday in Mexico City, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador reiterated his own optimistic position.

Causes of ‘chaos’

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“There is dialogue and an agreement can be reached,” Lopez Obrador said. “I’m optimistic we can achieve that.” He added it was a mistake, though, for the U.S. to link migration with trade, saying again that migration must be addressed by solving social and economic problems in Central America.

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Avocados from Mexico are seen for sale in a store in Washington, June 6, 2019. Mexican-grown foods would have been hit hard by President Donald Trump’s threatened tariffs, but Trump dropped his plan after the two nations struck a deal on stemming the flow of migrants from Central America. VOA

“The causes of the migratory chaos aren’t being analyzed, only the effects,” he said.

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U.S. authorities have said more than 100,000 undocumented migrants, mostly from the three Central American countries, have crossed into the United States in recent months. The U.S. government announced Wednesday that in May, 144,000 migrants were detained at the border, up 32% from April. It was the highest monthly figure in 13 years.

Trump, Migration, Deal, Mexico
Migrants cross the Rio Grande into the United States, to turn themselves over to authorities and ask for asylum, as seen from Ciudad, Juarez, June 7, 2019. The U.S. Border Patrol’s apprehensions of migrants at the border with Mexico hit their highest level in more than a decade in May. VOA

Some Republican lawmakers, normally close political allies of Trump, had said they would try to block any potential tariffs with legislation, which would have drawn wide support from opposition Democrats. Numerous lawmakers feared rising consumer costs for Americans if the tariffs were imposed on Mexican goods, including cars and numerous food products exported to the U.S. (VOA)