November 2nd is the day we Catholics celebrate our faithful departed. On a personal level, we remember those loved ones who walked with us on this life and have gone to the eternal home to continue their life journey. On the church level, we remember them as our brothers and sisters who share a common faith with us and have gone to continue their faith journey in heaven with all the angels and saints.
Here on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, within the dioceses of Las Cruces, El Paso, and Ciudad Juarez, in the month of November, we have a tradition to celebrate Mass right on the border line.
Smack against the border fence, we observe the feast of the faithful departed – Día de los Muertos, as it is known in Mexico and in other countries of Latin America – to pray in supplication and thanksgiving. We remember all our migrant brothers and sisters who have found death on their treacherous journey north, in search of a more dignified life for themselves and their families, often seeking to reunite with their fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and other relatives.
This tradition started a few decades ago, in the wake of the many border enforcement initiatives enacted to deter migrants from entering this country without inspection. Enforcement operations such as “Hold the Line,” “Gatekeeper,” and “Safeguard” have pushed thousands of people to try to enter through harsh regions and consequently increased the number of deaths along the border.
To honor their lives and call attention to these deaths taking place along with the increasing militarization of the border, these three border dioceses started this beautiful and moving celebration that is now nationally known as the Border Mass.
Several hundred people gather every year on both sides of the border, around a common altar, to celebrate the Eucharist, symbol of communion, in a place that seeks to divide peoples and families. We announce the Gospel of inclusion, remembering that we are all one family of God, called to walk with each other in love. We share the Body of Christ and exchange the sign of peace across the border through the fence, despite opposition from the border patrol officials and ground agents.
The bishops of the three dioceses take turns presiding and the clergy of all three dioceses come to accompany the faithful, as we remember those migrants who have passed on to the eternal life. We pray for them in thanksgiving, for the gifts with which they have enriched the lives of their loved ones and ours. We also pray for change in our hearts, from hardened to welcoming, change in our immigration laws, for immigration reform, and for more Catholic engagement in advocacy so we can enact these changes.
As part of this Mass, we bring symbols of faith and pilgrimage, of migration, suffering, accompaniment, unity and hope. We present an image of the Virgen of Guadalupe as mother and consoler, a backpack, water, sandals, our national flags, and a crucifix representing our common faith in our Lord and Savior, who strengthens and accompanies us all pilgrims, those who are coming, those who arrived, and those who have departed ahead of us.
This is a wonderful moment of prayer and solidarity on the border.
Virgen de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros! Amen.
Marco Raposo is Diocesan Director of the Peace and Justice Ministry in the Diocese of El Paso.
Visit the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Justice for Immigrants Campaign website to learn more about the Church’s work to promote positive immigration reform.
The 2008 film “One Body, One Border” tells the story of the Border Mass. Learn more about the film.