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SAN JUAN, RGV – At a brunch for reporters to celebrate World Communications Day, Bishop Daniel E. Flores praised the Rio Grande Valley media for its coverage of the influx of tens of thousands of Central American children last summer.

Flores said that unlike, sometimes, the focus of national media outlets, Valley newspaper publications, radio and TV stations and Internet news services endeavored “to put a human face” on the humanitarian challenge. The influx of tens of thousands of children from Central America was voted the number one story of the year in the Valley and by Univision nationally.

Bishop Daniel E. Flores
Bishop Daniel E. Flores

“I want to commend the media very much here in the Rio Grande Valley, in all of its different manifestations. When last summer we had the Central American children coming through, some into Brownsville from Matamoros but mostly from Reynosa into McAllen, there was a very conscious, I think spontaneous, response on the part of the media to tell the story, put a human face on it and to really encourage people to take note of what was happening,” Flores said.

“I think it contributed a lot to the very generous response we got from a lot of people, not just here in the Valley but nationwide. We had volunteers from Kentucky, from Washington, from all religions and no religions at all. I really do think that the local media had a lot to do with that, by putting a human face on the reality. For us it is always about human beings and children and mothers and fathers and what their struggles are and our response to that. Whereas, I think, sometimes, I won’t say always but sometimes the national outlets would kind of highlight the problem this was causing and the tensions. I really want to commend the local media for having focused on the human reality here and the children.”

Flores, the bishop of Brownsville, holds a brunch for reporters at the San Juan Basilica every year on or around World Communications Day. Flores said the issue of children coming from countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala into the Valley via the Rio Grande is still one to pay attention to, even though the number of detentions is not as great as last year.

“You talk to Sister Norma and her volunteers. We still have the center at Sacred Heart. We are still receiving any number of mothers and children every day and there are volunteers who continue to help that,” Flores said.

Sister Norma Pimentel runs the shelter set up for undocumented immigrants at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen.

Flores said he thinks the response of the Valley media to last year’s influx of immigrants “fits into” a theme Pope Francis illuminated in a recent letter penned to celebrate World Communications Day. “The Holy Father talks about the human environment and how it is that we have to care for each other, that there is a mutual responsibility we have as human beings. Communication has a lot to do with that – what story you choose to tell and how it is told. I think it is very appropriate for us here in the Valley. I think we here in the Valley have been greatly blessed by a great generosity on the part of our people. I, as the Bishop, want to say, particularly, how grateful I am to those who have and who continue to be so attentive to the needs of those who are going through a very difficult time,” Flores said.

Also on the subject of communication, Flores said he and Rabbi Claudio Kogan, from Temple Emannuel in McAllen, have met with two imams in the Muslim community in the Valley. “We have a responsibility to learn about each other and appreciate the diversity that exists here in the community,” Flores said, announcing there will be some events scheduled together.

Flores also pointed out that the Diocese of Brownsville celebrates its 50th Anniversary later this year. There have been six Bishops of Brownsville over this period: Adolph Marx (1965), Humberto Sousa Medeiros (1966–1970),     John Joseph Fitzpatrick (1971–1991), Enrique San Pedro, SJ (1991–1994), Raymundo Joseph Peña (1994—2009) and Flores (2009–). The Diocese has the highest percentage of Catholics to total diocese population in the United States, at 85 percent.

The South Texas region, including the Valley, Laredo and Corpus Christi, started out as missionary territory for the Catholic Church in the 19th century, Flores told reporters. Brownsville was initially the biggest city but later Corpus Christi outgrew it and the Diocese of Corpus Christi was formed. He said the Diocese of Brownsville was formed in 1965 to cater for the counties of Willacy, Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr.

Flores said there will be a large outdoor mass on Sept. 2 to celebrate the Diocese of Brownsville’s 50th Anniversary. He said there are also day-long historical tours that parishioners can take to Starr County to learn more about the work of the Catholic Church in the Valley.

Flores also spoke briefly about the upcoming visit of Pope Francis to Cuba and the United States. He said Pope Francis was “somewhat instrumental in moving the dynamic of the relationship between the United States government and the Cuban government.”

KRGV Channel 5 anchor Letty Garza
KRGV Channel 5 anchor Letty Garza

Flores said Pope Francis will visit the United States in September and that the tour would take in a speech to Congress, a visit to the White House, a convocation with all U.S. bishops, an outdoor mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., to canonize Junipero Serra, a speech to the United Nations Assembly in New York and a large outdoor mass in Philadelphia to celebrate the World Day of Families. Flores said to watch out for the theme of the immigrant family. “One of the things the Holy Father is very concerned about is how families are affected by immigration, worldwide. It is a phenomenon in Europe, it is a phenomenon in the Americas, and it affects also Asia. He is very concerned about how attentive we are to families on the move,” Flores said.

Reporters also discussed with Flores the possibility of Pope Francis visiting Mexico and the Texas-Mexico border. KRGV Channel 5’s Letty Garza suggested the Pope visit the Valley because, for one reason, more  OTMs (Other than Mexicans) are captured in the region than any place else.

Flores said he has written to the Pope to ask that he consider visiting the Valley. Flores said there was talk of Pope Francis visiting Mexico on his way to the United States. However, he said it was felt there would not be time to do justice to Mexico. “He would not be able to spend enough time in Mexico. He wanted to go to the Basilica in Mexico City to visit Our Lady of Guadalupe. He wants to give more attention to Mexico and he might want to visit the border,” Flores said, in reference to the Pope.

Editor’s Note: The photos in the slideshow that accompanies this story were taken by Mario Muñoz of RGV Public Radio 88 FM, a media partner of the Rio Grande Guardian.