Bishops of Panama, Colombia and Costa Rica visit migrants in Darién

Bishops of Panama, Colombia and Costa Rica visit migrants in Darién

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development participated in and promoted a Meeting of Bishops on the border between Panama, Colombia and Costa Rica from March 19 to 22, 2024.  

The event called "Easter with our migrant brothers" was held in collaboration with the Episcopal Conferences of Panama, Colombia, and Costa Rica; the Latin American and Caribbean Ecclesial Network of Migration, Displacement, Refuge and Trafficking in Persons (CLAMOR Network); local commissions of Social Pastoral Care and Human Mobility and the  Apostolic Vicariate of Darién, among others.

The initiative's program also included a visit and a moment of prayer at the Lajas Blancas Reception Camp, on the outskirts of the Darien jungle, where some 3,000 migrants live.   

The multilateral meeting was held in Panama City behind closed doors. Participants addressed pastoral issues to face the migration crisis involving thousands of people crossing the Darién jungle on their way to the United States.  

Message of Pope Francis

Pope Francis addressed a message to the participants of this meeting and sent another message to the migrants in the reception camp in Darien.

In the message written for the meeting of the bishops in the frontiers, the Holy Father pointed out the danger faced by migrants from different countries who pass through the Darien Gap "a jungle that is a triumph of nature but that today becomes a real ordeal that not only highlights the limits of migration governance in the Western Hemisphere, but also feeds a thriving business that allows the accumulation of illicit profits from human trafficking".  

"Migration in that region includes Venezuelans, Ecuadorians, Colombians, Haitians, who along the way link up with groups of Nicaraguans and other Central American travelers, as well as those from other continents. Neither the dangers posed by transit and illegal blackmail, nor the increasing number of rejections or standoffs in countries where these brothers and sisters are not wanted diminishes the attraction (real or illusory) of satisfying the needs of employment and better living conditions or, even, of a hoped-for family reunification," the Pope warned.

In addition, the Holy Father explained that "the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean, as witnessed by the five general conferences of its Episcopal Council, has always expressed its concern for the issue of migration, seeking to be a Church without borders, Mother of all" and added that "that is why, as Christians, every refugee and migrant who leaves his homeland challenges us. In our towns we find at the same time the hospitable fraternity that welcomes human sensitivity, but unfortunately also, indifference, which bloodies the Darien".  

"I encourage you to work tirelessly to make it possible to eradicate this indifference so that when a migrant brother or sister arrives, they will find in the Church a place where they won’t feel judged but welcomed; where hunger and thirst can be quenched, and hope revived," Pope Francis invited.

The Holy Father also gratefully acknowledged that "the Church in America, from the south to the north, including the Caribbean, has a broad and diverse system of pastoral care, charity, and human mobility at the national and local levels, which is manifested through a broad and solid response in direct attention to migrants, which takes the form of shelters, returnee centers, emergency humanitarian assistance, medical care, psychosocial assistance, legal counseling, spiritual support, strengthening of migrant collectives, livelihoods, and advocacy processes" and called for: "not to neglect these facilities, which are an opportunity of welcome and charity towards the neediest brothers and sisters".

"I encourage you to live these days with joy and hope and may the approach of Easter be the reason that reminds you that all your efforts are worthwhile. May Jesus bless you and the Blessed Virgin watch over you, and please do not forget to pray for me," Pope Francis concluded. 

Visit to Darien reception camp

On March 20, bishops and pastoral workers gathered in assembly visited the Lajas Blancas reception camp on the outskirts of the jungle of Darien, home to some 3,000 migrants, and shared a moment of prayer with them. 

In the brief message of greeting that Pope Francis wrote for the migrants present, the Holy Father assured them of his closeness and said that "I too am the son of migrants who left in search of a better future. There were times when they were left with nothing, even hungry; with empty hands, but with hearts full of hope."  

The Pope thanked them for visiting the migrants in this Darien camp because "they are the face of a Mother Church that marches with her sons and daughters, in whom she discovers the face of Christ and, like Veronica, with affection, offers relief and hope in the via Crucis of migration".   

"Migrant brothers and sisters, never forget your human dignity. Do not be afraid to look others in the eye because you are not a discard but are also part of the human family and the family of God's children. And thank you for being there," the Pope wrote. 

Final declaration

At the end of the meeting, a final declaration was drafted, approved, and signed by the bishops present, and subsequently made public.  

The Archbishop of Panama, Msgr. José Domingo Ulloa indicated that, among the objectives of the meeting, they hoped to "make much more aware of the danger" that migrants face when crossing the Darién jungle and recognized that, although good pastoral work is carried out, greater coordination is required between the different agents working in the migratory sphere of the region.  

In the final declaration, the bishops wrote: "We want to raise our voices in recognition of a growing humanitarian crisis in the region that has in the Darien jungle, a 'plug' of inhumanity due to the conditions of vulnerability and death faced by men, women, young people, girls, and boys".

"We respectfully but forcefully call on the relevant authorities to respect the fundamental rights of migrants and refugees both in transit and when they decide to settle in their countries and to fulfill their vocation to create public policies, both locally and regionally, that enable the social, economic and cultural integration of migrants' arrival communities; break down the legal, physical and symbolic walls of injustice and lack of solidarity, to build an increasingly humane, fairer, friendlier and more hospitable Latin American and Caribbean continent,” they urged.

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development was represented by the undersecretary, Fr. Fabio Baggio.


18 March 2024