Ten-year-old Jersey Vargas met Pope Francis.
Vargas joined a coalition from Southern California that journeyed to Vatican City March 26 to deliver letters from children with undocumented parents written to the Holy Father.
In her letter, Vargas wrote how she’d spent her last two birthdays without her father, who has been in custody with U.S. immigration officials. She told the pope about her father in person today after the general audience at St. Peter’s Basilica.
The young girl made her way to the guardrail and, as she waited for the pope, clung to a handkerchief embroidered with two birds and a nest, a gift for Pope Francis. The birds represent her parents, and the nest their home.
Pope Francis, who regularly greets many pilgrims who come to the Wednesday audiences, came near.
“My father is suffering,” Vargas told the Holy Father. “It’s not just, and other children in the United States are suffering just like I am.”
Overcome with emotion, she had to take a step back from the railing, Vargas said in an interview with The Tidings. Her chaperone, Martha Ugarte, encouraged Vargas to talk to him again.
She did and this time, the Holy Father touched her face, blessed her forehead and then kissed her forehead. He whispered in her ear, “I will talk to President Obama about it.”
Pope Francis will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama March 27.
“I think we will have immigration reform,” Vargas said. “It’s an honor to get the pope’s blessing. He’s the closest to God.”
“It was a miracle,” said Ugarte, noting how things lined up in the final moments. “Having the pope say he’d talk to the president surpassed our expectations.”
Juan José Gutierrez, who also accompanied the group from Los Angeles, said the entire group was overcome with the encounter with Pope Francis. He said the pope blessed the entire congregation.
“What’s happening to Jersey is happening to millions of children,” Gutierrez said. “The immigration system is tearing families apart.”
The group believes immigration reform will happen soon and that deportations will come to an end.
“We believe something is going to happen,” he said. “We believe in miracles.”
Before her trip, Vargas spoke to her father, who is currently being held in Louisiana. He told her that he loved her, and she told him he’d continue fighting for him.
As previously reported in The Tidings, the effort is a collaboration of the Catholic Coalition for Immigrant Rights, San Gabriel Mission Church and the Claretian Missionaries who administer the mission parish. The CCIR has been collecting letters from students from California and the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
Archbishop José H. Gomez gave the group a special send off March 16 at the closing liturgy of the Religious Education Congress.
“We are talking about souls, not statistics,” the archbishop said in a Jan. 10 speech to members of the Rotary Club in Los Angeles. The same day, Vargas and three other children representing millions of children of deported or jailed parents read the letters they wrote to the pope at the plaza of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
Father Pa√∫l Velázquez, the Cathedral’s associate pastor, received the youth on behalf of the archbishop.
“We are talking about kids who are left without a mother or a father,” the archbishop said to the Rotary Club, “about fathers who without warning, won’t be coming home for dinner tonight; parents who may not see their families again for a decade, and we are also talking about a permanent underclass who live in the margins of society.”
In a meeting March 19, the archbishop gave Vargas a medal of Our Lady of Guadalupe to carry with her on the trip to the Vatican. Vargas, who had been afraid to fly, said she found consolation in the gift, and said she knew the Blessed Mother was with her.