She invoked the memory of many people who tried to migrate but failed, some even dying on the way.
“They had a dream and their dream is mine,” she told Pope Francis. “I was fortunate to secure a scholarship to study in the United States. I took a leap of faith. I had to learn a new language. I miss my family and my culture.”
She has worked jobs she “could never imagine” like construction worker, landscaper, or nanny, “anything to achieve my goal.”
“My story is the same as many others,” she continued. “There is a lot of frustration with the increasingly toxic narrative that surrounds immigrants and displaced people. We are often described with discriminatory language: rapist murderers, drug addicts, drug dealers.”
Instability in American politics in 2020 made her and thousands of other international students wonder if they would be deported, she said.
“We are dreamers… and workers. People who help to offer the best to every country,” she said, adding that students are “working to build bridges that should already have been constructed.”
Alejandro Paracia from Colombia represented students at the Catholic University of Costa Rica. He cited Pope Francis’ 2020 apostolic exhortation La querida Amazonia on the importance of caring for cultural roots, which give “the strength that will make you grow, flourish and bear fruit.”
“The context in which we live is a coexistence of many peoples, many cultures,” the student reflected. “Unfortunately, we know if we are obliged to leave our homes, we are at risk of losing this great wealth of identity, and also losing the connections with our families if we are far from them, with all the social consequences that this involves.”
“You invite us to dream of a new culture that develops men and women and that safeguards their roots and guarantees a worthy life, a life with dignity,” he told the pope. To implement these cultural dreams, he said, would “recover the real meaning of Catholicity as something universal, global and without borders.”
Pope Francis gave various responses to the students. He said societies that receive immigrants should realize that children of migrants respect their own roots.
“We must respect their roots and also integrate them,” he said. “We cannot integrate the migrant but make them forget their own roots. That is not integration.”
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The pope emphasized that God is “close, merciful, and tender.” He rejected the mindset that sees the Church as a “closed Church.” Rather, it should be “open to anyone.”
He invoked the example of a priest who responded to the situation of immigrants who did not know where they could eat. He set up a table in the church to feed them.
Some United States students voiced concern that climate change was victimizing the poor and driving people to migrate. They advocated for more environmental preaching from Catholic clergy, Catholic efforts to organize for “science-based climate action”, and “non-violent direct action” to address the “climate crisis.”
“Non-violence is the way that brings us to sincerity. We have to refuse any forms of hypocrisy,” Pope Francis commented. “Please don’t enter the game of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy poisons everything.”
The online gathering comes as the Catholic Church is engaged in two-year global consultation process to prepare for the 2023 Synod on Synodality. This synod aims to encounter and listen to churchgoing Catholics, Catholics who don’t go to church, ex-Catholics, and non-Catholics, and discern what they have to say.
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago also spoke, giving an official welcome to the pope. He discussed a “spirt of synodality” and praised the students he said understood the need to “build bridges” rather than walls. He encouraged people not to be afraid of questions they find hard to answer.