The president of the University of Notre Dame on Friday called for deeper engagement with Mexico and denounced “vitriol” aimed at Mexicans in the United States as “churlish, insulting political theater.”

The Rev. John I. Jenkins spoke in Mexico City as the prominent Catholic university was celebrating plans to open an office in the Mexican capital to facilitate academic exchange. His prepared remarks did not criticize any politicians by name but appeared to be a response to rhetoric from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The presumptive GOP nominee has called for the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. When Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015, he said of Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Jenkins, who has led Notre Dame since 2005, lamented nativist attacks on immigrants. As a Catholic institution, he said, Notre Dame was long known for its association with the Irish in times when immigrants, especially those of the Catholic faith, “were not especially welcome” at elite universities.

“The vitriol directed at the Irish — felt by Irishmen serving in the U.S. Army who defected to Mexico — and later the Italians and other waves of immigrants to the United States, sadly, is not a thing of the past, certainly not for Mexicans in the United States who have been slandered in extraordinary ways, as has Mexico itself,” Jenkins said.

“It is churlish, insulting political theater for certain. But it is not only that. It suggests that the United States distance itself from Mexico at just the time that our nations are most positively engaged with each other and poised to reap the benefits of robust trade, industrialization and entrepreneurship.”

Jenkins noted that Notre Dame, like other schools, long looked to Europe and more recently Asia to establish academic partnerships. “Let me assure you, the compass at Notre Dame now points south,” he said in the speech.

The Trump campaign said it would not comment on Jenkins’s speech.

Jenkins has not endorsed any candidate in the 2016 presidential campaign. At its commencement ceremonies in May, the university gave awards to Vice President Biden and former House speaker John A. Boehner, a Republican from Ohio. At that occasion, Jenkins lauded the Democrat and the Republican for seeking civil political discourse. “Despite a fractious political environment, you have each built collegial relationships with those with whom you disagree — even disagree vehemently,” he said.

In 2009, Jenkins made news when he welcomed President Obama to the campus in South Bend, Ind., to deliver a commencement address. The presidential appearance drew criticism from those who said Obama’s support for abortion rights was at odds with church doctrine.

An aide to Jenkins, contacted Friday by phone, said the speech in Mexico City was delivered in the morning to a group of Mexican business and academic leaders. Here is the full text of the prepared remarks:

“Mexico is Indispensable”
Remarks by Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C, President, University of Notre Dame
Embargoed until, 800 AM Friday, July 9, 2016
Club de Industriales, JW Marriott
Mexico City
Gracias, Edmundo Vallejo, for your kind introduction and for hosting Notre Dame this morning. I also want to thank Juan Pablo Castañón and Dr. Ann Tenbrunsel for agreeing to address us, and to thank all of you for joining us.
Let us begin with an invocation:
The University of Notre Dame’s ties to Mexico reach back for more than a century. In the early 1880s, it arranged for special train cars, departing from Chihuahua, to transport Mexican students bound for Notre Dame on the five-day journey to South Bend, Indiana.
One of our early university vice presidents, Fr. John Zahm, traveled to Mexico often and wrote extensively about its archeology, geology and anthropology in the 19th century.
But Notre Dame is better known for its historic association with the Irish because we educated so many at a time in the United States when immigrants, especially Catholics, were viewed with suspicion and who were not particularly welcome at prestigious institutions of higher education.
The name “The Fighting Irish” was first applied to our football team by nativists who sought to depict Irish immigrants as the drunken, quarrelsome Irish. Later, we embraced the name “fighting Irish”and wore it as a badge of honor.
Notre Dame was founded in 1842. Its first graduation class of young men was four years later in 1846. (Women were admitted in 1972)
Maybe it’s only a coincidence, but that same year – 1846 — the young men who would soon form the Saint Patrick’s Brigade – Batallón de San Patricio — left the United States to fight on Mexico’s side in the war between our two counties.
The vitriol directed at the Irish – felt by Irishmen serving in the U.S. Army who defected to Mexico – and later the Italians, and other waves of immigrants to the United States – sadly is not a thing of the past; certainly not for Mexicans in the United States who have been slandered in extraordinary ways, as has Mexico itself.
It is churlish, insulting political theater, for certain. But it is not only that. It suggests that the United States distance itself from Mexico at just the time that our nations are most positively engaged with each other and poised to reap the benefits of robust trade, industrialization, and entrepreneurship.
Like many universities in the U.S., Notre Dame first looked east to Europe and more recently to Asia for valued partnerships. Let me assure you, the compass at Notre Dame now points south.
That orientation is critical for understanding the changing demographics of the United States. It is critical for higher education. And it is critical for the future of the Catholic Church in the United States. It is also critical to confronting economic and social issues of the Americas North and South; and how Catholic educators in both hemispheres come to terms with providing the great equalizer – a good education – to rich and poor alike.
Notre Dame is excited by the promise of innovation and applied research in collaboration with Mexican businesses and universities. In the long run, all of that may very well buttress economies and help people out of poverty in both of our countries.
We also understand the importance of values and ethics – of how the values of our graduating students prepare them for life and specifically to cope with and combat the kind of corruption that has plagued society through the generations. For as long as there have been seats of government and corporate suites, their occupants have been tempted and often snared by corruption.
Notre Dame’s mission, and that of our partners in Mexico, is to produce future leaders armed to resist evil, trained to excel in business, or scholarship, or public service, or whatever path they choose, and prepared always to do good in the world.
Early in his papacy, Pope Francis said, “we are a single human family that is journeying on toward unity, making the most of solidarity and dialogue among peoples in the multiplicity of differences.” As a Catholic institution, guided by the Church and inspired by Francis, Notre Dame celebrates the interdependence and unity of peoples and nations.
It informs our outreach to our neighbor Mexico, in particular.
Notre Dame is taking a small step today in our bold vision for our future with Mexico by opening an office in Mexico City, thanks to the generosity and engagement of many of you in this room.
It’s a first step, with lots more to do, in making Mexico City one of seven global gateways in the world from which we can launch student and faculty exchanges, engage in joint research and build partnerships with business and with your great academic institutions.
We recognize that Mexico has one of the most important economies in the world, that you are one of the United States most important trading partners, that you have a rich, enduring culture and faith, and some of the best universities in the world.
In short, Mexico is indispensable.
Our futures are joined at the border, not divided by it.
Notre Dame knows it and wants to be a part of that future.

 

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