Diocese of Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores speaks to reporters at the McAllen State of the City Address at McAllen Convention Center on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017.

McALLEN, RGV – The Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Christophe Louis Yves Georges Pierre, is to tour the Rio Grande Valley next month, including a visit to the Sacred Heart Refugee Center in McAllen.

Sacred Heart’s parish hall has served as a refugee center for the past three years as over 53,000 undocumented immigrants, mostly from the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, have received hot meals, clothing and medical care there.

Pierre, who was born in France, is Pope Francis’s ambassador to the United States and has an office in Washington, D.C. He was appointed to the post in April, 2016. From 2007 to 2016 he served as papal nuncio to Mexico.

Christophe Louis Yves Georges Pierre

A nuncio is a Vatican diplomat with the rank of ambassador. He is responsible for diplomatic relations with the government, but also serves as the Pope’s representative to the Church in a given country. Among his responsibilities are coordinating the search for and vetting of candidates to become bishops.

Pierre will be in the Valley for a meeting of the Catholic Border Bishops group. The Border Bishops group comprises bishops from both sides of the Texas-Mexico border. They meet twice a year, once in the U.S. and once in Mexico.

Bishop of Brownsville Daniel E. Flores exclusively told the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM about the visit of the Apostolic Nuncio and border bishops. He said the visit takes place Feb. 14 and 15. The trip will include a visit to Sacred Heart Church Refugee Center in McAllen, Flores said.

“The Catholic bishops on the Mexico side and the Texas side meet twice a year. There’s about 12 altogether because sometimes other bishops that are not necessarily from the border participate. This time, for example, the Archbishop of Monterrey and the Bishop of Austin are going to come because it’s a chance for us to talk about the concerns that we have for the good of our people on both sides of the river,” Bishop Flores said.

“This time we are very blessed because the Apostolic Nuncio of the United States, his Excellency Christophe Louis Yves Georges Pierre, is coming. He wants to see the border and he wants to be able to talk to the bishops from both sides (of the river). So, we are going to have a series of meetings, we are going to show them around, and then we are going to have a big public mass on the 14th at the Basilica so that people can come and participate.”

Asked how often the border bishops meet, Flores said twice a year.

“The last meeting was last September in Juarez, Mexico, and then it is our turn, and then next September it will be in Piedras Negras. We go back and forth. It’s a very good meeting, very constructive and we talk about the lives of the people who live on both sides of the border.”

Asked if the meetings of the border bishops with Pierre was significant in the light of the recent presidential election and all the talk of deporting millions of undocumented immigrants from the United States, Bishop Flores said:

“That certainly will be something we will be discussing. We do not exactly know where the administration is going go on particular things. First of all, we want to be prepared, to prepare our people to deal with whatever situations may come. But, also, as bishops on the American side, we are very concerned as a whole body across the country of making known the church’s continued insistence on the need for comprehensive immigration reform.”

Bishop Flores said the plight of immigrants and the impact of any change in immigration policy by the federal government will be most keenly felt in the Valley.

“It is something to be particularly mindful of, especially here in McAllen. It is one of the things I want to show the nuncio; how we have been so attentive to the Central American mothers and children. I think that is something the nuncio wants to see and I think that is what the bishops in Mexico also want to see. Because it is also something that goes on in the Mexican side, in terms of their responsibility,” Flores said.

“In many ways, we are going to continue to advocate on a political level, but our first responsibility is dealing with the people that are coming and that are here.”

Flores gave his interview after attending and giving the invocation for McAllen Mayor Jim Darling’s State of the City Address at the McAllen Convention Center. In a video about the events of the last 12 months in McAllen, McAllen City Commissioner John Ingram said McAllen and Valley residents had “opened their hearts” to 53,000 immigrants passing through Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

Asked about this, Bishop Flores said: “It is incredible and the volunteers, to me… I talk about it whenever I go outside the valley to other parts of the country, about how responsive the local community has been. It’s the volunteers that go every day, from early in the morning, and do everything from preparing meals to washing the clothes, to being able to offer, welcome, and advise to mothers and children that come. So really it’s the local community that keeps it going and it’s a great thing to see and we have to keep it up.”

Christophe Louis Yves Georges Pierre

The Catholic Herald provided these biographical details about the papal nuncio to the United States:

Papal nuncio Christophe Louis Yves Georges Pierre was born on January 30, 1946, in Rennes in France’s Brittany region, where his family has had roots for many generations. He first attended school at Antsirabe in Madagascar, pursued his secondary education at the College of Saint-Malo in France and also spent one year in Morocco at Lycee Francais of Marrakesh.
He entered Saint-Yves seminary in Rennes in 1963, but he interrupted his studies for two years of military service in 1965 and 1966. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Rennes at the Cathedral of Saint-Malo on April 5, 1970.
Then-Father Pierre earned his master’s degree in theology at the Institut Catholique de Paris and his doctorate in canon law in Rome. He was parochial vicar of the parish of Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul de Colombes in the Diocese of Nanterre, France, from 1970 to 1973.

He then earned a diploma at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome, which provides training to priests for eventual service in the Vatican’s diplomatic corps. In 1977, he entered diplomatic service, with his first post in Wellington, New Zealand. He then served in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Brazil and at the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva.

In July 1995, St John Paul II named him an archbishop and appointed him as apostolic nuncio to Haiti. He served there until 1999, and then was named nuncio to Uganda, where he stayed until 2007, when he was named nuncio to Mexico.

Editor’s Note: Reporter Stephanie Jara contributed to this story from McAllen, Texas.