The cardinal’s comments were made in reference to rising tensions surrounding the issue of migration in the U.S., where controversy has arisen over President Donald Trump’s travel ban, proposed border wall, and recent announcement of the phasing out of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which has benefited hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors.
In a press conference announcing the “Share the Journey” initiative, Cardinal Tagle said world leaders should remember that “we are all migrants. Nobody can claim to be a non-migrant, we are all passing in this world.”
“Nobody is a permanent resident,” and no one can claim to “own the space they occupy,” he said, voicing his hope that there would be a universal “conversion of mind” on the issue.
Acknowledging the fear that some might feel at having foreigners enter their country, the cardinal said these fears often dissipate when people take the time to sit with immigrants and listen to their stories. “You will see that they are like you and me,” he said.
Recalling how his grandfather came to the Philippines as a “poor boy from China,” he said, “who would have thought he would have a cardinal for a grandson?”
Present alongside Cardinal Tagle at the press conference was Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, along the U.S. border with Mexico, as well as the director of Caritas Ethiopia, Bekele Moges, and three young migrants from Africa.
The migrants were Yancuba Darboe from Gambia, 21; Amadou Darboe from Senegal, 20; and Berete Ibrahima from Guinea, 23. Each of them left their homes due to poverty or a lack of opportunities and endured harsh conditions, including torture at the hands of traffickers, before eventually arriving in Italy and finding a fresh start.
In comments to CNA, Sr. Pimentel stressed the importance of getting to know migrants personally.
Meeting and speaking with migrants face-to-face is “so important,” she said, “because that's what causes the transformation in us.”
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Sr. Pimentel recalled the story of a woman who had come to visit one of the centers operated by Catholic Charities in Rio Grande Valley. The woman was “one hundred percent against” their work, believing that migrants shouldn't be allowed into the country.
In response, the sister gave the woman a tour, and “took her to visit the families and the children and showed her the reality, and she met them personally.”
When the visit ended, the woman's whole perspective had changed, and she encouraged Sr. Pimentel to continue the work they were doing. The woman's husband even called the center later to express his shock at the change in his wife's attitude toward the issue.
“So I believe if somebody can be transformed so fast because of the fact that they saw that mother, that infant, that child (and) we have it in our hearts to reach out to those we find suffering, we will help that person that needs our help,” she said.
Sr. Pimentel described current immigrant policy in the U.S. as “harsh.”
“All the administrations, even the previous administration, were very harsh in deporting a lot of the immigrants and making those detention centers for family units,” she said, adding that in her view, “it's so unjust and so unfair for a family with children, with infants, to be placed in detention facilities.”