NEW YORK – Marking the annual celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, the U.S. Bishops’ Conference Migration Chair said immigrants are “visible signs of Christ among us,” and called on federal authorities to work towards essential policy and infrastructure changes at the southern border.

This year’s Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe came at a time of record migration all along the U.S.-Mexico border that is only expected to grow before the new year.

“When we speak about the issue of immigration, we are fundamentally addressing the movement of people – human persons created in the image and likeness of God, each one of them a brother or sister to us all,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso said in a statement. “Unfortunately this truth is often obscured by political rhetoric, fearmongering, and hyperbole.”

“Our Lady of Guadalupe points us towards a better way, one that ultimately leads to reconciliation.”

U.S. Border Patrol data shows that agents encountered 230,678 undocumented immigrants in October – the most for a single month since May. Agents encountered a record 2,005,026 undocumented immigrants in Fiscal Year 2022, which ran from Oct. 1, 2021 – Sept. 30, 2022. That figure was about 400,000 more than Fiscal Year 2021, according to the data.

The figures for November and eventually December are expected to be even higher as migration hasn’t slowed, and an influx is expected in the coming weeks once Title 42 – a controversial Trump-era measure allowing the immediate expulsion of immigrants – is lifted on Dec. 21.

At this time of crisis at the border Seitz said that the U.S. bishops continue to affirm the natural right for people to migrate that must be balanced with the right that countries have to uphold their borders, as well as the obligation they have to provide humane processes for newcomers.

“We maintain that time, resources, and political will are best spent making structural improvements to our broken immigration system,” Seitz said. “At the moment when we are witnessing the arrival of greater numbers of families and individuals at our border with Mexico, we call on federal authorities to stand up critical infrastructure to meet their humanitarian needs.”

“Especially during this advent season, these newcomers are visible signs of Christ among us,” Seitz continued. “Let us meet this moment not with policies of exclusion and indifference but with a spirit of compassion and generosity.”

“We pledge our support and cooperation in meeting these challenges,” he said.

The bishop also invited Catholics, and all people of faith, “to pray that through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe we may give comfort to those forced to leave their homes, and may Our Lady be a guide to all those entrusted with the responsibility of leadership.”

Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg