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20180620T0814 0485 CNS POPE US IMMIGRATION 800Members of the Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue Unit near Falfurrias, Texas, apprehend an immigrant from Guatemala June 19. Pope Francis told Reuters he stands with the U.S. bishops in their condemnation of the Trump administration's immigration policy has led to children being held in government shelters while their parents are detained in federal prison. (CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters) VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis said he stands with the U.S. bishops who recently condemned the Trump administration's policy on immigration that has led to children being held in government shelters while their parents are sent to federal prisons.

"I am on the side of the bishops' conference," Pope Francis said in an interview with the Reuters news agency, published online June 20. "Let it be clear that in these things, I respect (the position of) the bishops' conference."

On the first day of their June 13-14 spring assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, read a statement on behalf of the bishops denouncing the government's zero-tolerance policy.

"Families are the foundational element of our society, and they must be able to stay together. While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral," the statement said.

The political rise of populist movements in both the United States and in Europe has led to a severe crackdown on men, women and children trying to escape war, violence, poverty and persecution.

In Italy, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini banned the NGO rescue ship Aquarius, with more than 600 migrants aboard, to dock and has vowed to stop any foreign boats carrying rescued migrants into the country.

The separation of families in the United States, however, isn't a new problem, the pope said.

In a transcript of the interview shared by Reuters, the pope said, "During Obama's (presidency), I celebrated Mass at Ciudad Juarez, on the border, and on the other side there were 50 bishops concelebrating and in the stadium there were many people. The problem was already there; it wasn't just Trump but also the government before."

Nevertheless, Pope Francis said the current wave of populist rhetoric against migrants was "creating psychosis" and that people seeking a better life should not be rejected.

Europe, he added, is facing a "great demographic winter" and, without immigration, the continent "will become empty."

"Some governments are working on it, and people have to be settled in the best possible way, but creating psychosis is not the cure," he said. "Populism does not resolve things. What resolves things is acceptance, study, prudence."

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.