Following their 9th meeting on Human Mobility held in El Salvador from 21 to 25 August, the Bishops of the Episcopal Conferences of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean released a statement expressing their solidarity and compassion towards all those who are forced on the road and urging a renewed reflection on promoting the right not to migrate. ICMC Secretary General, Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, present at the event, was invited by the assembled bishops to join them in signing the declaration.
The event, organized with the support of the Holy See’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, aimed “to develop a wider space for participation, in order to give a more far-reaching response to the pastoral challenges posed by the phenomenon of migration” in the region.
In their statement, the bishops highlighted the complex nature of migration and the impact of numerous factors, such as poverty, violence, political instability, and increasingly, climate change. They underscored the grave dangers that migrants face in their pursuit of safety and a better life. Indeed, human trafficking, abuse, discrimination or even death are all too common for migrants and refugees, who are often disrespected, threatened, and mistreated by a multitude of actors, including authority figures.
Pained and outraged by this assessment, the bishops called for concerted efforts to address the root causes of migration, promote Integral Human Development, and joined Pope Francis’ message for the 109th Day of Migrants and Refugees to promote the right not to migrate:
“It is essential to promote regional and global cooperation to address the root causes of forced migration and to work together in the search for sustainable solutions so that each person is free to migrate or to stay.”
Representing the Dicastery at the event, Father Fabio Baggio, Co-Under-Secretary of the Migrants & Refugees Section, detailed the plan laid out by the participants: “the first axis will be to promote a regional and transnational migration pastoral to foster synergy between different Churches. The second axis will be to have a clearer vision of what is happening to give more adequate responses to the problems and, thirdly, to see how it is possible to involve other actors [to] guarantee that human dignity is protected along the migratory routes.”
The region is currently experiencing a significant surge in the number of migrants traveling north: in the first quarter of 2023, 127,687 people have crossed the dangerous Darién Gap, a large region of watershed, forest and mountains located at the border between Colombia and Panama, compared to only 19,925 people for the same period in 2022.
Also invited to address the bishops, Msgr. Vitillo spoke of the history of ICMC’s founding by Pope Pius XII in 1951, who gave the organization the mandate to form networks of Catholic bishops and Catholic-inspired organizations serving migrants and refugees in all parts of the world. He also spoke of ICMC’s present networking with National Conferences of Catholic Bishops and its two funding programs to assist the bishops in emergency responses and in the provision of mental health, psychosocial and protection services, with special focus on child migrants and refugees.
Click here to read the Bishops of the Episcopal Conferences of North America, Central America and the Caribbean’s statement in English (unofficial translation) or here to read it in Spanish (original language).