The Church in the Dominican Republic cannot be indifferent to the plight of Haitian immigrants, Pope Francis said last week during a meeting with the Dominican Republic’s Catholic bishops.
“Pastoral and charitable attention to immigrants, especially those from neighboring Haiti, who seek better conditions of life in the Dominican territory, cannot allow indifference on the part of pastor’s of the Church,”the Pope said May 27 to the bishops who were in Rome for their ad limina visit.
“It is inexcusable to fail to promote initiatives of fraternity and peace between the two nations that form this beautiful Caribbean island.”
The Dominican Republic has a long history of anti-Haitian sentiment, though a recent spike in tension is likely due to a contentious 2013 Dominican Supreme Court ruling that stripped the citizenship of nearly 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent.
In February, a Haitian immigrant was found lynched in the public square of Santiago. Dominican authorities claimed other Haitian migrants killed the man over a winning lottery ticket, though the victim’s family disputes that claim, according to International Business Times.
Thousands of Haitians took to the streets of Port-au-Prince in the days following the lynching to protest ongoing mistreatment of Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic. Across the border, several Dominicans in the city of Santiago burned a Haitian flag and urged their government to put and end to the “invasion” of Haitian migrants, according to Al Jazeera.
Pope Francis urged the Dominican bishops to work together with civil authorities to establish solutions for Haitian migrants who are denied documents and basic rights in the Dominican Republic.
“It is important to know how to integrate immigrants into society and to welcome them into the ecclesial community,” the Pope said. “I thank those who are close to them and to all who suffer as a gesture of loving care towards the brother who feels alone and helpless, with whom Christ identified.”
The Pope praised the bishops for their efforts to combat corruption, the abuse of minors, and the trafficking of humans and drugs. He emphasized that the actions of the Church must always be directed toward the care of disadvantaged populations.
“Everything that is achieved in this respect will increase the presence of the Kingdom of God that gave us Jesus Christ, while enhancing the credibility of the Church and the relevance of the voice of her pastors.”
Pope Francis also encouraged the bishops to continue teaching the truths about marriage and family life in the Dominican Republic.
“Marriage and the family are going through a serious cultural crisis,” the Pope warned. “But that does not mean they have lost importance. The family is the place where we learn to live together in difference, to forgive and to experience forgiveness, and where parents pass on values to their children, and especially the faith.”
He particularly stressed the importance of forming husbands and fathers and promoting familial and marital reconciliation.
“A broad-ranging catechetical effort regarding the Christian ideal of conjugal communion and family life, and the spirituality of fatherhood and motherhood, is necessary,” the Pope said. “Greater pastoral attention needs to be paid to the role of men as husbands and fathers, as well as the responsibility they share with their wives with respect to marriage, the family and the upbringing of children.”
Pope Francis said the bishops must also recommit to the formation of priests and seminarians in the Dominican Republic.
“I invite you to take time and care for priests, to care for each of them, to defend them from the wolves, which also attack the shepherds,” he cautioned.
The Pope ended his message to the bishops with a nod to environmental stewardship.
“The relationship between man and nature should not be ruled by greed, by manipulation or by over-exploitation … but must keep the divine harmony among creatures and creation, to put them at the service of all and of future generations.”