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Pope to address migrant issues at U.S. Mexico border as religious groups struggle to respond worldwi

POSTED: February 15, 2016 4:49 a.m.
Allison Pond/

The pope's visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, where he is expected to say a prayer for migrants worldwide, comes at a time when a cascade of migrants fleeing violence in the Middle East is causing a divide among Christians in Europe.

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Pope Francis' stop at the border town of Juarez on Feb. 17 is expected to be among the most poignant of his visit to Mexico, the Dallas Morning News reported. The pope is planning to walk to the edge of the Rio Grande to say a prayer for migrants around the world, whether they be from the Middle East or South America.

“I think the pope’s message will be to teach the church’s approach to the reality of migrants in the world and how they need to be treated with respect,” Bishop Mark J. Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso told the Dallas Morning News. “The fact that they leave their homeland doesn’t mean they leave behind their human dignity and their human rights. I expect him to call us to our responsibility to respond to migrants with compassion.”

The pope's visit to Juarez comes at a time when a cascade of migrants fleeing violence in the Middle East is causing a divide among Christians in Europe, according to the Economist.

"On one hand, European churches and religious charities have played a prominent role in succouring migrants and campaigning for them to be treated decently. On the other, politicians on the nationalist right are beating the drum of Christian nativism; they have redoubled their warnings about the threat to Europe's long-established religious culture," the Economist reported.

The result is public quarrels between progressive religious leaders and right-wing politicians, including in Italy as well as Germany, where the anti-Muslim organization Pegida has been staging demonstrations as German churches have sheltered Muslim refugees on church property where police cannot enter, according to the Economist.

Last week, however, the German Catholic Church called for a reduction in the number of refugees allowed into the country, saying the numbers are overwhelming, reported Agence France-Presse.

Germany cannot "take in all the world's needy," said Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, calling for "charity but also reason" while denouncing the rise in xenophonia that has accompanied the refugee crisis.

The Economist also noted Christian aid organizations that are active on the continent, including branches of Caritas, a Catholic relief organization. The World Council of Churches has helped to create "humanitarian corridors" and obtain humanitarian visas for refugees to deter them from risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean in boats.

The WCC has also convened discussions on streamlining Europe's refugee policies and highlighted a "joint venture with Catholic and Protestant churches and the Italian government to open small centres where 7,000 trained 'mediators' can work directly with the most vulnerable refugees to integrate them into Italian culture and society."

Over the holidays, Archbisop of Canterbury Justin Welby gave a New Year's address in which he said Jesus was a refugee, following on the heels of a Christmas message from Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the U.K., that addressed similar themes.

Refugee issues have been a top concern for the pope throughout his papacy, according to Vocativ, which compiled a list of "Everything Pope Francis Said About the Migrant Crisis." In January, the pope told a group of migrants in Rome to hold onto the precious values of their native cultures and not to allow anyone to rob them of joy, according to the Telegraph.
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