POPE Francis has expressed his "profound sadness" over the deaths of a migrant father and daughter who drowned while attempting to cross into the United States from Mexico.
Photographs of El Salvador native Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, 25, and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria lying dead on the banks of the Rio Grande river went viral after they emerged on social media yesterday.
The images were taken on Monday by journalist Julia Le Duc near Matamoros, Mexico, across the river from Brownsville, Texas, before being published by Mexican newspaper La Jornada and dubbed a "portrait of desperation" by The New York Times.
The photos have sparked renewed debate over the plight of migrants and refugees attempting to flee the violence and poverty of Central America for the US - much as the infamous images of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi provoked debate over the European migrant crisis in the Mediterranean four years ago.
In a statement today, the Vatican joined the growing global outrage over the drowning of Mr Martínez Ramírez and his daughter.
Alessandro Gissoti, interim director of the Holy See Press Office, said: "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.
"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."
He swam across the Rio Grande on Sunday with his 23-month-old daughter.
He set her on the US bank & started back for his wife, but the girl went into the waters after him.
— Andrew Stroehlein (@astroehlein) 26 June 2019
At least 283 migrants died while attempting to cross the US-Mexico border last year, according to the United States Border Patrol.
Pope Francis, born in Argentina to an Italian immigrant family, has been an outspoken advocate for countries to accept migrants and refugees in recent years.
In April, the pontiff donated $500,000 to help migrants in Mexico - offering assistance to local projects that provide food, lodging and basic necessities.
And this morning, the Vatican's daily newspaper daily newspaper L'Osservatore Romano put the most widely-circulated image of the drowned pair on its front page.
It comes after US President Donald Trump announced last weekend that he would delay raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) targeting families that have received deportation notices.
Explaining the last-minute delay on Twitter, Mr Trump wrote: "At the request of Democrats, I have delayed the Illegal Immigration Removal Process (Deportation) for two weeks to see if the Democrats and Republicans can get together and work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border. If not, Deportations start!"
At the request of Democrats, I have delayed the Illegal Immigration Removal Process (Deportation) for two weeks to see if the Democrats and Republicans can get together and work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border. If not, Deportations start!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 22 June 2019