Sun | Sep 15, 2019

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

Published:Thursday | January 24, 2019 | 12:15 AM
Pilgrims attend the opening ceremony and mass of World Youth Day Panama 2019, in Panama City on Tuesday. Pope Francis will visit Panama from today to Sunday.

 

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis said yesterday that fear of migration is "making us crazy" as he began a trip to Central America amid a standoff over President Donald Trump's promised wall at the US-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 US - "young people who often fall into the hands of drug traffickers and so many other realities that our young people face."

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 US 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 US 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.