Bishops end border visit calling for urgent reunification of children

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Rhina Guidos

JUAN, Texas (CNS) — In less than 48 hours, a group of Catholic bishops saw the
faces of triumph and relief from migrants who had been recently released by
immigration authorities, but ended their two-day journey to the border with a
more “somber” experience, visiting detained migrant children living temporarily
within the walls of a converted Walmart.

a news conference after the second and last day of their visit July 2, they stressed
the “urgent” need to do something to help the migrant children.

children who are separated from their parents need to be reunited. That’s
already begun and it’s certainly not finished and there may be complications,
but it must be done and it’s urgent,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of
Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, celebrated Mass in Spanish
with about 250 children at the facility on what once was the loading dock of
the superstore.

was, as you can imagine, very challenging to see the children by themselves,”
Archbishop Gomez said during the news conference. “Obviously, when there are
children at Mass, they are with their parents and families ‘ but it was special
to be with them and give them some hope.”

said he spoke to them about the importance of helping one another.

visit to the facility known as Casa Padre capped their brief journey to the
border communities of McAllen-Brownsville near the southern border. Casa Padre
gained notoriety earlier this year because it houses children separated from
their families, as well as unaccompanied minors in a setting with murals and
quotes of U.S. presidents, including one of President Donald Trump saying, “Sometimes
by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.”

facility is run by Southwest Key Programs, a nonprofit that operates it under a
federal contract. Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania, along
with Auxiliary Bishop Robert J. Brennan of Rockville Centre, New York. also were
part of the delegation July 1 and 2, led by Cardinal DiNardo.

building houses about 1,200 boys ages 10-17, said Bishop Bambera, and though
the care they receive seems to be appropriate — it’s clean, they have access
to medical care, and schooling and recreational facilities — it was clear that
“there was a sadness” manifested by the boys, he said in a July 2 interview
with Catholic News Service.

can provide the material environment to care for a person and it’s provided
there, but that doesn’t nurture life. That takes the human interaction with the
family or a caregiver,” he said.

many of the boys held there are considered “unaccompanied minors,” some were
separated from a family member they were traveling with, said Bishop Bambera. And
when you see them, “those boys bear clearly the burden of that” separation, he

Bambera said the boys listened intently during Mass and seemed to have a
particular devotion and piety, one not seen in children that age. During Mass, “I
saw a few boys wiping tears,” he said.

Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, head of the local Brownsville Diocese,
accompanied the delegation, which included a visit on the first day to a
humanitarian center operated by Catholic Charities. He said there’s a need to
address the “push factors” driving immigration from Central America, a place
where migrants are fleeing a variety of social ills, including violence and
economic instability.

U.S. border bishops have frequent communication with their counterparts in
Mexico and Central America on variety of topics, he said during the news
conference, but the problems driving immigration to the U.S. are complex.

said he has spoken with parents in Central America about the danger of the
journey but recalled a conversation with mothers in places such as Honduras and
Guatemala who have told him: “My son will be killed here, they will shoot him
and he’s 16. What am I supposed to do?”

are extremely complex and difficult situations,” he said. “This is a
hemispheric problem, not just a problem on the border here.”

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