I was blessed to be able to join “Pope Francis VIPs” as they attended a Mass on the United States-Mexico border.
These VIPs were not CEOs, VPs, or celebrities. Rather these VIPs were, as defined by Pope Francis, migrants, undocumented immigrants, unaccompanied minors, and family members separated by massive fences, armed security, and outdated immigration laws and policies.
Prior to the Mass, we gathered for a couple hours in St. Pius parish hall waiting for our turn to be processed through security. In the hall was an air of nervous enthusiasm, as we really didn’t fully grasp what we were about to experience. The VIPs were excited to meet cardinals, bishops, and Church leadership. There was an obvious gratitude for the work of the Church on immigration and legitimate care for the migrant.
After being processed through security, we were bussed to a levee that separates El Paso, Texas USA and Juarez, Mexico.
Heavy on most of our minds were the thousands of people who have died in efforts to cross the border in hope of a better life for themselves and their families. Pope Francis himself spent several minutes of silent prayer on behalf of those lost lives.
In his homily, the Holy Father said: “The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today. This crisis, which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want instead to measure with names, stories, families. They are the brothers and sisters of those excluded as a result of poverty and violence, drug trafficking and criminal organizations. Being faced with so many legal vacuums, they get caught up in a web that ensnares and always destroys the poorest. Not only do they suffer poverty but they must also endure these forms of violence. Injustice is radicalized in the young; they are ‘cannon fodder,’ persecuted and threatened when they try to flee the spiral of violence and the hell of drugs.”
I was reminded that how, when wanting to prove our points, we recite numbers, indices, and statistics, not sharing the human story, overlooking the faces of people and the reality of our shared humanity. This “holy” sharing hit me hardest when persons on the Juarez side of the border and the El Paso side received communion: one God, one Church, one faith, and one family — all sharing simultaneously in the Body of Christ. I heard Pope Francis at the end of his homily when he said “…we can pray, sing, and together celebrate the merciful love that the Lord gives us and that no border can stop us from sharing.”
During the Mass, despite a well-fortified border and active patrolling security, an incredible peace surrounded us, a calmness that was not the result of fences or firearms. For a brief moment, the border was inconsequential. Prayers and supplications flowed on both sides as freely as the birds that circled above us. Together we prayed for generations past and for those yet born. We prayed that their lives may be lived to the fullest, and we remembered that no border can stop us from being one family.
Communities of faith across the United States are taking up Pope Francis’ call to see the names, stories, and families behind the human tragedy of forced migration. Here are just a few: