Mass at the border – celebrating our migrant brothers and sisters departed



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.

headshot of Marco Raposo

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.

Torture: A Persistent Moral Issue

Farris, VirginiaElectric shocks. Beatings and whippings. Water-boarding. Rape. Hanging from chains. All these are examples of torture. Unfortunately, these methods and others like them are still practiced today by many countries, most often in places of detention, hidden from public view.

Just what is torture? The United Nations Convention Against Torture defines it to mean any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person to obtain information or a confession, to punish, intimidate or coerce, and that action is done with the instigation or consent of a public official.

That last part – that torture is condoned by someone acting in an official capacity – is a critical factor for international accountability. This means that torture is being carried out by government, law enforcement, military or political personnel. This is why the actions in Abu Ghraib were considered particularly egregious by the world community.

While many Catholics abhor what went on in Abu Ghraib, many still believe that torture can be justified based on what some have called the “ticking time bomb” scenario. A poll taken last December found that among white Catholics, 68% thought torture was sometimes or often justified; only 12% said it was never justified. In contrast, among non-whites, 51% thought torture was sometimes or often justified, while 26% said it was never justified. Among those professing no religion, 41% thought torture was sometimes or often justified and 32% said it was never justified. Obviously, more work needs to be done in helping Catholics understand why torture is inconsistent with our commitment to protect the life and dignity of every human person.

Church teaching is very clear; torture is always wrong. The Catechism of the Church says that “torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity” (no. 2297) and thus is a grave sin that violates the Fifth Commandment.

Saint John Paul II called physical and mental torture “intrinsically evil.” The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says that “the prohibition against torture [is] a principle which cannot be contravened under any circumstances” (no. 404).

Perhaps some Catholics don’t realize that torture not only degrades the human dignity of the victim; it also compromises the dignity of the perpetrator, estranging the torturer from God. Torture also undermines a society’s collective integrity and moral fabric. It harms us all. Certainly, after the revelations about Abu Ghraib, the credibility of the United States as a defender of human rights was compromised.

Beyond the moral arguments, many professional interrogators say intelligence gained through torture is generally useless or misleading. Think about it. If someone is causing you excruciating pain, at a certain point, you may say just about anything to make them stop. Experts tell us that torture, or “enhanced interrogation techniques” (as torture is sometimes euphemistically known), is counter-productive, fuels anti-American sentiment, and encourages more people to embrace the very extremism and terrorism that the U.S. wants to stop.

June is Torture Awareness Month because on June 26, 1987 the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) went into force, outlawing torture. The U.S. is a signatory to the CAT.

Have your parish or community group commemorate Torture Awareness Month by taking advantage of available resources on the Church’s teaching on torture. Visit this page for links to study guides, videos and letters related to USCCB efforts against torture.

As Catholics, we join in efforts to ensure that the United States says “Never Again” to torture.

Virginia Farris serves as International Policy Advisor in the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.