'Salt of the Earth'

Apostolic Nuncio: 'You have demonstrated what it means to be the Church'

By ROSE YBARRA
The Valley Catholic

SAN JUAN — Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, described the clergy, religious and laity in the border regions of Mexico and the United States as the salt of the earth for their Christian response to refugees and immigrants “por muchisimos años” (for many, many years) during a Mass on Feb. 14 at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine in San Juan. 

 

“It brings me great joy to see that the Church is truly present in the realities of immigration,” said Archbishop Pierre, 71. “And that is the Church.

“The Church is not just a simple assembly of people who pray and sing within the walls of the church. We are good and decent servants who give of ourselves totally, selflessly and joyfully to God – salt of the earth people and salt is what gives life flavor.”

Archbishop Pierre visited the Rio Grande Valley to attend the biannual Tex-Mex Border Bishops conference Feb. 13-15 in San Juan, which was attended by 22 bishops. The bishops of U.S. and Mexican dioceses along the border have met twice a year since 1986 to discuss issues of mutual concern such as immigration matters and border violence.

The bishops drafted “The Cry of Christ and the Voice of the Migrant Moves Us,” a 19-point statement of the bishops of the border between Texas and northern Mexico.

“The bishops felt very strongly that it was important for us to speak with our people along the border on both sides as part of our mission, so we elaborated a statement, a document, which we will then use to build on in the future,” said Bishop Daniel E. Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville. “First of all, it’s a word of hope that we hope to read to our people and to express to our people.

“Beyond that, we will communicate it with our respective episcopal conferences, from the Texas Bishops to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops so they will be informed as to how we have responded to this current moment of communion.”

Point three in the letter states, “In this difficult moment in our history, we hear the cry of our migrant brothers and sisters, in whose voices we hear the voice of Christ Himself.”

“We can always love more and better,” said Archbishop Gustavo Garcia Siller of San Antonio. “The culture of encounter, the culture of dialogue and relationships can always improve, so we need to do that, not only as leaders of the Church. We (all) have a responsibility to take a step further in building a better humanity, connecting hands, connecting minds, connecting hearts … As people of faith, we believe that God loves us, that he created us, that we share equal dignity. … There is no need for walls. What we need is bridges of communications, relationships that will foster greater love.”

During the visit, the nuncio and the bishops also visited an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center and the humanitarian respite center at Sacred Heart Parish and in McAllen.

At the respite center, interfaith religious partners along with other community representatives, including the consulates from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, gave witness as to how the Church has brought the community together.

Sister Norma Pimentel of the Missionaries of Jesus, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, provided an overview of the more than 60,000 people who have been served at the center by volunteers who come from local communities and around the country.

Ashley Feasley, director of Migration Policy and Public Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke about the three recent immigrant-related executive orders that President Donald Trump has signed recently and the impact they could have on immigrant communities in the United Sates including the Rio Grande Valley.

In his homily at the Feb. 14 Mass, Archbishop Pierre, who was the papal envoy in Mexico for nine years, acknowledged the many casas de migrantes in Mexico and the humanitarian respite center in McAllen for the care they provide to immigrants.

The nuncio also shared a conversation he had with the consuls at Sacred Heart Parish in McAllen.

“It really impacted me, what the consuls said: ‘this parish has opened their doors to the migrants so they can encounter a little bit of humanity,’” Archbishop Pierre said, adding that Pope

Francis promoted this kind of encounter in his pastoral exhortation Evangelii gaudium.

“The Holy Father urges the faithful to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Pierre said. “And you have demonstrated what is means to be the Church … what it means to be the living gospel in these difficult circumstances.

“Faith is not an idea, it is the encounter with a person. It is to open our hearts to see others as Christ sees them.”

Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Pierre to be the apostolic nuncio to the United States on April 12, 2016. He had been the papal representative in Mexico since 2007.


Editor Brenda Nettles Riojas contributed to this report

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