ROME – Pope Francis is “profoundly saddened” by the death of the father and daughter from El Salvador who were photographed after they drowned while they attempted to cross the Rio Grande to reach the United States.
“With immense sadness, the Holy Father has seen the images of the father and his baby daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande River while trying to cross the border between Mexico and the United States,” said a statement released on Wednesday by the Vatican.
“The pope is profoundly saddened by their death, and is praying for them and for all migrants who have lost their lives while seeking to flee war and misery,” continued the statement signed by the director ad interim of the Vatican’s press office, Alessandro Gisotti.
The photo of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, a migrant father and Valeria, his 23-month-old daughter, dead and face down on a muddy riverbank went viral on social media on Tuesday. It was taken by journalist Julia Le Duc.
Dominican Sister Donna Markham, head of Catholic Charities USA, also released a statement on Wednesday, saying that “it is extremely painful to know what these people have endured to journey to our country, especially the children, knowing that they came at great risk and were running for their safety—in some cases for their lives.”
“We remain steadfast in providing assistance at the border, but this endeavor cannot be solely the responsibility of private charities,” Markham wrote. “Our response to this crisis must be a collective one. It is important that Congress and the Administration act to provide financial assistance and to ensure a certain standard of care that preserves the welfare and dignity of all persons.”
The U.S. Congress is currently debating legislation that would give billions in funding for the care of unaccompanied minors and other migrants trying to reach the country. Many of these funds will be used to help social service agencies to assist immigrants on the border with food, shelter and other necessities.
Many compared the image of the Martínez Ramírez to that of young Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy of Kurdish ethnic background who drowned on Set. 2, 2015 in the Mediterranean Sea.
The lifeless bodies of the two migrants from El Salvador washed ashore on the Mexican side of the border, in Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, on Monday, Le Duc said. Martinez Ramirez arrived in Matamoros on Sunday with his wife, Vanessa Avalos, and Valeria.
They were trying to cross from Mexico to the United States, and decided to try to swim after they found out that it could take weeks to get an interview to begin the asylum process in the United States.
When their lifeless bodies were found, they were half a mile from an international bridge.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
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