Pope Francis made a cybersplash with his recent participation at a Google hangout, where he live-chatted with young people from around the world. In December he reached out directly to a different group of young people in Arizona, volunteers for the Jesuit-sponsored Kino Border Initiative. The group works on direct service and advocacy work, encouraging a humanitarian response to the ongoing migrant crisis at the U.S./Mexico border.
Pope Francis expressed his gratitude for the “Kino Teens” efforts, working with migrants across the border in Mexico, people, Pope Francis wrote, “who live daily the immigration phenomenon that generates all sorts of inhumane consequences.”
He encouraged the teens “not to tire in their labor of edifying love of others and embrace against discrimination and exclusion.”
Pope Francis added, “These young people, who have come to learn how to strive against the propagation of stereotypes, from people who only see in immigration a source of illegality, social conflict and violence, can contribute much to show the world a Church, without borders, as Mother of all; a church that extends to the world the culture of solidarity and care for the people and families that are affected many times by heart-rending circumstances.”
He said the teens stories “touched my heart, not only because of the drama they describe, but also for the hope they manifest.”
Sean Carroll, S.J., executive director of Kino Border Initiative, told the Associated Press that the Arizona students were very excited and very touched after receiving the letter from Francis.
"They cross the border every day to serve meals to the migrants," said Father Carroll, who wrote the cover letter to accompany the teens' messages to the Pope. "I think receiving this letter affirms the work they are doing."
Father Carroll had written the pope about the Kino Teens and invited him to visit the border region in both Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, in the Mexican state of Sonora. The Arizona border with Mexico is one of the busiest for illegal crossings. It accounts for nearly 30 percent of all U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions.
Twenty Kino Teens wrote letters to the pope describing their experiences living on the border and serving migrants.
"He didn't say whether he was coming [to the border] or not, but he sent a beautiful letter expressing his gratitude for the letters and his support for what the young people are doing," said Father Carroll. "It was a wonderful response affirming the work of KBI and the Kino Teens."
Pope Francis is set to travel to the U.S. in late September and there had been rumors that he might make a stop along the U.S.-Mexico border. His only confirmed visits are to Washington, New York and Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. His full itinerary has not been announced, but the pope is expected to be in Philadelphia for the last two full days of the Sept. 22-27 families' meeting.