Pope Francis said in Panama Thursday that the Church must work to overcome the world’s “fears and suspicions” of migration, and pledged his support for “all efforts” to avoid further suffering in crisis-torn Venezuela.
The pope is being kept abreast of developments in nearby Caracas, and was praying for the people of Venezuela, Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said. Francis is supporting “all efforts” to avoid further suffering for the population, he said.
Speaking from Panama in Central America — the hub for US-bound migrants — Francis said migrants were simply seeking “the minimum conditions for a better future.”
The Argentine pope was addressing Central American bishops on the first day of his visit for a global gathering of young Catholics for World Youth Day.
Earlier, in a speech to government ministers and members of the diplomatic corps at the foreign ministry, he called on political leaders to reject “all forms of corruption.”
People strain for a glimpse of Pope Francis, with one holding a poster of Salvadorean Saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero, slain while celebrating Mass in 1980
Young people, he said, insisted that those in positions of authority should “lead a life that demonstrates that public service is a synonym of honesty and justice, and opposed to all forms of corruption.”
He returned to the theme in his speech to bishops at the nearby 17th Century St Francis of Assisi Church.
– Femicide ‘plague’ –
Here, he deplored what he called “the plague” of femicide affecting Latin America.
A pilgrim carries a Panamanian flag as he walks through the streets of Panama City during World Youth Day
“The killing of women — our continent is experiencing a plague in this regard,” Francis said, saying this and other problems like drug trafficking, gang violence and the sexual exploitation of minors and young people, were “the fruit of a culture and a society run amok.”
“Often families have been broken by an economic system that did not prioritize persons and the common good, but made speculation its ‘paradise’, without worrying who would end up paying the price.”
“And so, we see our young people without a home, without a family, without a community, without a sense of belonging, easy prey for the first charlatan who comes along.”
Later Thursday, the pope was to join tens of thousands of young people in formally opening the Catholic jamboree at a palm-fringed park overlooking Panama Bay.
– ‘Fears and suspicions’ –
Several migrant caravans, mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, have been making their way through Central America and Mexico to the US border since last October, amid trenchant opposition from US President Donald Trump.
Francis told bishops that the church, with hospitality and acceptance, can facilitate “dialogue and help overcome fears and suspicions, and thus consolidate the very bonds that migrations — in the collective imagination — threaten to break.”
A man gives his thumb up as he waits to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis during his visit to Panama City
Even before setting foot in Panama on Wednesday, the pope hit out at Trump’s plans to build a border wall to keep migrants out, saying the fear of migrants itself “is making us crazy.”
Before getting on his plane, the pope underscored his support for migrants by meeting eight immigrants living in Rome.
Thousands turned out to cheer the pope on his way from the Papal Nunciature, where he spent the first night of his five-day visit, to his first official engagement of the day, a courtesy call on President Juan Carlos Varela.
In the narrow streets of the old city, they leaned forward over barriers as the pope’s small sedan passed by, waving red and white Panamanian flags.
At the foreign ministry, soberly-suited diplomats posed for selfies with the pope and stretched out to shake his hand as he left the podium after his speech.
– Prayers for Venezuela –
A Venezuelan holds a souvenir doll of Pope Francis near a Venezuelan national flag, while waiting to see him pass by in Panama City
On his way from the airport after his arrival on Wednesday, his driver had to swerve sharply at one point when a young man broke through a barrier and ran towards it, waving a Venezuelan flag. The man was quickly detained by security guards.
In crisis-wracked Venezuela, opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido has proclaimed himself president with the support of the United States and several other countries — including Panama — setting up a tense standoff with the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Francis will hold two open-air masses in Panama City. Among the other highlights of his five-day visit will be a trip to the Good Samaritan home for young HIV and AIDS patients on Saturday, after the closing mass.
He will also visit a youth detention center and hear the confessions of inmates, including one serving time for murder.