Catholics Play Vital Role in Helping Migrants to U.S

Robin Emmott, Reuters, January 11, 2008

At a Catholic-run shelter just across the border from Laredo, Texas, dozens of Latin American migrants say grace and tuck into a hearty meal of sausages, beans and rice, before trying to swim across the Rio Grande into the United States.

Weary migrants on their journey north often recharge their batteries at a network of similar shelters run by the Roman Catholic Church—a lifeline sanctioned by the Vatican, despite increased U.S. efforts to keep out illegal immigrants.

“Migration is a human right and migrants are some of the world’s most vulnerable people. It is the church’s obligation to help them,” said the Rev. Francisco Pellizzari, an Italian-Argentine missionary who runs the Nazareth migrant shelter in Nuevo Laredo.

The Nuevo Laredo shelter has been granted a papal blessing in a Vatican certificate that hangs proudly on the wall.

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The Nuevo Laredo shelter has been granted a papal blessing in a Vatican certificate that hangs proudly on the wall.

Many Catholic Churches in the United States have welcomed Hispanics, with some seeing their congregations double in size. They set up soup kitchens and offer support to families hit by workplace raids and deportations.

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ANGER AT CATHOLIC CHURCH

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Many religious conservatives in the United States take a sharply contrasting view of immigration from that of the Catholic Church.

Some are angry that the Catholic Church helps people who break the law. Others accuse it of using support for immigration as a way to win back members as the church loses ground to evangelicals and secularism in Latin America.

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Without the shelters in Mexico, most migrants would be forced to beg for food, sleep on streets, in the hot sun and freezing cold of the desert or on the muddy banks of the Rio Grande before attempting to cross.

“I’m extremely grateful for this shelter, but even without it, I would still try to get across,” said 19-year-old Guatemalan coffee picker Raul Mintis, looking at a map of the United States in the Nuevo Laredo shelter.

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