Pope Francis has given half a million dollars to help Mexican migrants
It’s often said that the President of the United States is the most powerful man in the world. However, as God’s representative on Earth, the Pope would likely be the most powerful - and most important - according to followers of the Catholic faith.
As vastly different positions, this question over superiority has never caused any friction. However, compared to their predecessors, both men are mavericks. Now, Pope Francis has made his position on Trump’s immigration policies unequivocally clear.
"Men and women, often with young children, flee poverty and violence, hoping for a better future in the United States. However, the US border remains closed to them," Peter's Pence, the Pope's charity, said in a statement.
"Media coverage of this emergency has been decreasing and as a result, aid to migrants by the government and private individuals has also decreased," the fund explains. As head of one of the richest organisations on the planet, the Pope then voted with his dollar.
"In this context,” the statement adds. “Pope Francis donated US $500,000 to assist migrants in Mexico. This amount will be distributed among 27 projects in 16 dioceses and among Mexican religious congregations that have asked for help in order to continue providing housing, food and basic necessities to these our brothers and sisters."
More than 40 per cent of the world’s Catholics live in South America. In Mexico, 83 per cent of the population follows the religion. However, economic problems, infrastructural shortcomings and political turmoil have led to a range of social issues in the country, with many families living in fear of - yet reliant on - drug cartels.
Glancing at the picture above, one might assume that the more economically developed country is on the right. However, on the right is Mexico’s Tijuana and on the left, San Diego.
While the Mexican side is built up right to the border, the US side has a buffer zone, an additional, taller, fence and a distinct lack of buildings near the border - a perfect metaphor for the countries’ respective attitudes towards it.
With a higher standard of living and improved wages, the US is an enticing prospect to many Mexicans. However, in some specific circumstances, Trump’s policies are extremely isolationist and the US is becoming ever more difficult for Mexicans to enter.
The US-Mexico border has been a very public bugbear for the president. "I will build a great wall - and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me - and I'll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border,” Trump enthused in June 2015, during his candidacy announcement speech.
Fast forward four years and there is still no wall. In fact, on 19 March, US Customs and Border Protection officers stopped or apprehended 3,974 undocumented migrants. That month saw a span of days all surpass 2006’s daily average of 3,530 - when the issue was at fever pitch.
However, the scale of the problem is inherently difficult to track. For instance, with an increased focus on border protection, it could be that a higher percentage of undocumented migrants are being caught. For instance, the overall number of undocumented migrants in the US is actually in decline according to data from the Center for Migration Studies.
However, at the end of last year, a migrant caravan formed of more than 7,000 people from countries as far as El Salvador and Honduras arrived at the US-Mexican border - joining many thousands more already living there and optimistically hoping that one day, they can get across the border. This is putting enormous strain on the charities and the Mexican authorities trying to manage the situation.
"In recent months, thousands of migrants have arrived in Mexico, having travelled more than 4,000 kilometres on foot and with makeshift vehicles from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala," the Peter's Pence announcement explained. "Men and women, often with young children, flee poverty and violence, hoping for a better future in the United States. However, the US border remains closed to them."
The announcement also mentioned to "six migrant caravans" comprised of "75,000 people". This is why the half a million dollars which have been pledged is so badly needed. But it also sends a message to Catholics - and indeed the world - about charity. Importantly, however, it also sends a message to Trump. "I will make Mexico pay for that wall," the president added, during his 2015 candidacy announcement speech. “Mark my words.”
Trump subsequently ordered the longest ever US government shutdown - when he wasn’t granted $5.7bn from Congress for the wall. However, the motivations behind his isolationist and protectionist policies appear to go beyond economic or even logical reasoning.
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best," Trump said in 2015, during his first press conference as a presidential candidate. "They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."
Trump has frequently been accused of racism due to these comments. Upping the ante, he said of migrants in 2018: “You wouldn't believe how bad these people are". He then added: "These aren't people. These are animals."
Bound by hundreds of years of tradition, the Catholic Church has only ever changed at a glacial pace. At this point, it is facing an unprecedented level of scrutiny. However, Pope Francis has helped modernise the religion to some extent and it now seems that the oldest institution in the western world is more forward-thinking than the President of the United States. As to whether that is encouraging or worrying, I’ll leave you to decide.