I want to share the visit made by our brothers Jaime Campos, a friar who is ending his period as head of the JPIC Office in Rome, and Daniel Blanco, who will assume responsibility for said office next September.

During their time in Panama, several meetings were held between June 6 and 10, 2022. It should be noted that, due to the location of the franciscan family in the geography of the Panamanian territory, we traveled with the “dynamic duo” via land from Panama City to David, Chiriquí, and vice versa. Travel itself took two whole days of the visit. The planning went very well, as well as the sharing between JPIC and RFM team in Panama.

Visiting Boquete

On June 6 we traveled to Boquete, in Chiriquí, where the meeting was held with the team responsible for JPIC of the presences of the Order in Panama. The following brothers were present: José Olmos, Jacinto Ubarte, Héctor Fuentes, Edgardo Pérez, and René Flores. The atmosphere was pleasant and welcoming from the reception, the local fraternity was very attentive and provided good meals, in accordance with franciscan traditions. The meeting was coordinated by Jaime Campos, who began by presenting the objectives of the visit, highlighting the importance of the meeting and sharing as brothers involved in JPIC, while integrating Br.Daniel in this journey.

Br. Jaime began by asking that the feeling of our vocational process be shared and why we identify with the spirituality of JPIC. For a long time we shared our feelings and the meaning it holds for us, in an atmosphere of joy and gratitude for this inherited charism. Then the challenges of the OFM in relation to JPIC were discussed and Br.Jaime made it clear how the Order is taking greater institutional commitments with respect to the human drama. Among these situations the Order respond through JPIC with the commitment to integral ecology, the climate crisis, and the drama of migrants in the world. Also, Jaime highlighted the work that is being established with the Franciscan Network for Migrants in Panama, which has been assumed as the franciscan family. We then moved on to a moment of conviviality.

In David’s territories

On June 7 we went to visit the migrant shelter in Gualaca, Chiriquí. The RFM-Panama Team, Br. Jaime and Br. Daniel, and also Rigoberto Pitti in his capacity as Justice and Peace coordinator in the Diocese of David, participated. In the place we were greeted by a plague of mosquitoes, as if we were in the jungle. Upon arrival at the place we saw that there were about 6 buses that had transferred the migrants who entered through the Darién. The transfer, regulated by the migration authorities, is carried out daily between Darién and Gualaca, so that migrants can continue their journey across the border to Costa Rica. According to migration agents, more than 590 migrants arrived that day, including Venezuelans, Cubans and Ecuadorians.

The environment of the refuge is desolate; its facilities are deteriorated and not worthy for housing human beings. The migrants emphasize that they are cared with the very basics during the days they spend there. Most seek, by means of public transportation, to continue their journey towards the United States. There was a group of Nicaraguans who were arrested for being taken by a “coyote,” and entering Panamanian land irregularly. The detained migrants expressed that their cases have been treated with indifference at the legal level; they feel unheard and uncared for. Upon returning to the vehicle, we took with us the faces, words, and gestures made by the migrants, feeling a pain in the heart for this drama of crossing the Darién and the fact of continuing to search for a new horizon.

After the visit, we were received by the fraternity of friars in David. That same afternoon of the 7th we had a meeting with the RFM-Panama Team in the parish hall. Present were: Vivian Cianca, Rafael Lara, Sr. Silvia Maradiaga, Br. José Olmos, Br. René Flores, Br. Héctor Fuentes, Br. Edgardo Pérez and the visitors, of course, Br. Jaime and Br. Daniel. In a totally fraternal atmosphere, we shared with joy how we felt, the expectations, the challenges, and the organizational proposals.

The crisis of migrants who transit through Panama makes us react to the challenge from the franciscan charism. Also, we present that in our organization we are a JPIC and RFM team that seeks to respond to the objectives related to environmental justice and integral ecology from franciscan spirituality. As a team we are organized in two territorial presences, one in Chiriquí and the other in Panama City (La Pintada). Both at the beginning and at the end of the meeting, Br. ​​Jaime encouraged us to continue walking, consolidating the team, preparing an action plan for 2023 and responding to the migratory drama in Panama.

On June 8, we returned from Chiriquí towards the capital, we traveled with Br.Edgardo at the wheel. Along the way we stopped for lunch at the franciscan presence in La Pintada, where Br. Yonhis and a team of cooks had prepared an enjoyable meal of barbecue and soft. I live in this community, a town near the tropical forests, where we accompany 87 peasant communities. The Poor Clare Sisters are also in this town. We continued the trip, until we reached Panama City where we spend the night.

On June 9, in the morning Jaime, Daniel, José, René and Edgardo went to visit “Hogar Luisa” shelter. In this place we were received by the director and person in charge Jorge Ayala, together with Vidalina Santos, who performs the function of social worker. After taking a tour of the facilities, in which at the time there were more than 10 migrants including children, we had a dialogue with Jorge, who gave us a historical tour of this service to migrants, as well as some current challenges. At present, the greatest limitation of the human mobility ministry is that in the Darién there is no office or team that accompanies the migratory drama. He shared with us that, in the Darién vicariate, they only have the support or contact with Clara, who is a pastoral volunteer. This day we end the meetings in the territory of Panama.

On June 10, Br. Jaime and Br. Daniel left for El Salvador, where they continued their visit of encouragement and integration with the JPIC and RFM teams. Here we remain as a team, grateful and motivated as a franciscan family that seeks to respond from the spirituality of JPIC to the signs of the times in these Panamanian lands.

Rene Flores, OFM. Salvadoran, franciscan friar, lay option. Member of the franciscan province, “Our Lady of Guadalupe”, of Central America, and foundation in Haiti.
Animator and head of JPIC-OFM in Panama, Member of the RFM in Panama, Experience in management and administration of educational centers (19 years), animator and facilitator of JPIC teams (16 years), Coordinator and facilitator of training processes with agents of pastoral (35 years).

Bachelor of theology. UCA, El Salvador
Diploma in educational administration. URLs. Guatemala
Master’s degree in educational research. UCA. El Salvador
Diploma in political incidence in Human Rights. UCA. El Salvador
Studies at the Superior School of Franciscanism, ESEF. Madrid. Spain.

He currently resides in La Pintada, Panama.

Franciscan Network for Migrants