Pope Francis sent a personal letter to a group of Arizona teenagers in December, thanking them for assisting immigrants along America’s southern border and advocating for more humane immigration legislation.
In the letter, which is dated December 19, the pontiff responded to messages sent to him by the head of Kino Border Initiative, a Catholic immigrant advocacy group in Arizona, as well as several teenagers affiliated with the organization. According to the National Catholic Reporter, the youth — who are students at Lourdes Catholic School in Kino, Arizona and known as the Kino Teens — had mailed the pope accounts of their experiences serving food to immigrants and invited the Holy Father to visit the border.
“These young people, who have come to learn how to strive against the propagation of stereotypes, from people who only see in immigration a source of illegality, social conflict and violence,” Francis wrote, “can contribute much to show the world a church, without borders, as mother of all; a church that extends to the world the culture of solidarity and care for the people and families that are affected many times by heart-rending circumstances.”
He also asked the students “not to tire in their labor of edifying love of others and [their] embrace against discrimination and exclusion.”
The Kino Border Initiative, which was founded by a group of Catholic organizations on the U.S. and Mexico sides of the border, describes itself as dedicated to “help make humane, just, workable migration between the U.S. and Mexico a reality” and promoting immigration policies that “affirm the dignity of the human person and a spirit of bi-national solidarity.” The group’s executive director, Jesuit Fr. Sean Carroll, said the pope’s letter was an endorsement of both the organization’s work, which includes serving meals to migrants, crafting educational programs for other youth, and visiting the offices of lawmakers to advocate for more just policies regarding immigration and deportation.
“[The pope’s] letter was a real affirmation of the work these students have done [for] the migrants we serve and this issue of immigration,” Carroll told ThinkProgress.
Carroll said the youth participated in serving meals to migrants on the Mexico border with Arizona, which is one of the main points of deportation in the United States. He added that the Kino Border Initiative served around 38,000 meals to migrants last year, many of whom were hungry and disoriented by the U.S.’s traumatic deportation process.
Francis, the first Latin American pope and himself the child of immigrants, has already expressed interest in visiting the U.S.-Mexico border, telling a group of journalists last month that entering the United States from the border with Mexico would be “a beautiful gesture of brotherhood and support for immigrants.” There are currently no official plans for Francis to make a border trip, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced Thursday that the pontiff will address a joint session of Congress in September, and the Vatican confirmed last November that the pope plans to visit Washington, D.C., New York City, New York, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2015.
Caroll, for his part, was optimistic about a potential papal visit to the border.
“There is a good chance [Pope Francis] will come at some point, and we will welcome him with open arms,” he told ThinkProgress.
The Pope has repeatedly voiced support for immigrants throughout his papacy, defending the rights of migrants globally and even directly addressing immigration issues in the United States. In 2014, Francis called on the international community to respond to the surge of unaccompanied children fleeing across the U.S.-Mexico to escape violence in Central America, and reportedly spoke with President Barack Obama about immigration reform last June. The Catholic Church in the United States has also been deeply supportive of recent attempts to pass comprehensive immigration reform, which was repeatedly endorsed by many U.S. Bishops and the subject of a nationwide bus tour led by Catholic nuns.