Presidents of the 22 Latin American and Caribbean bishops' conferences have expressed their support for Pope Francis and their commitment to address the region's challenges through pastoral work.

During their meeting May 13-18 in Tegucigalpa, the bishops reaffirmed their support of the pope "in a special way at this time, when certain special interest groups reject his mission as universal pastor of the Catholic Church."

In a statement dated May 16, they also pledged to respond to challenges posed by "the growth of an ethical, political, economic and cultural" crisis in the region, including "machismo that wounds the dignity of women" and "migration forced by poverty and violence."

Singling out Venezuela, Nicaragua and Haiti, they decried "ideologies (that) often result in sacrificing the poorest people, favoring the increase of inequalities that are unacceptable."

In all three countries, severe political and economic crises have led to violent clashes between anti-government protesters and government security forces. Insecurity and shortages of food, medicine and electricity have forced people to flee those countries. Bishops' conferences throughout the region are coordinating efforts to assist Venezuelan migrants, whose numbers could reach 5 million by the end of this year, church workers say.

The bishops also highlighted the need to combat corruption, a topic that drew sharp words from Pope Francis during his visit to Peru in January 2018. One widespread scandal involving bribes and kickbacks from a Brazilian construction consortium has led to investigations and in some cases criminal charges against top officials in at least 10 countries, among them Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.

Effectively battling corruption requires "a change of mindset that leads people to understand that their value lies not in what they have, but in what they are, and that their life is measured by their ability not to consume, but to share," the bishops wrote.

Deforestation, pollution from mining and oil operations, and related threats to indigenous people's lives and territories have long been a concern for church workers in the region. They have gained greater visibility since last year with preparations for a Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, to be held in the Vatican in October.

"We hope that this synod will renew the commitment to address this challenge in all regions of Latin America and the Caribbean," they wrote.

In a letter to Pope Francis that accompanied their statement, the bishops wrote that they seek "to be signs of hope, as a church that returns to its roots, to the life of the first Christian communities, (a church that) embraces, shares, celebrates and lives faith, hope and love."