At border, bishops call for compassion, immigration reform

| Patricia Zapor | April 10, 2014 | 3 Comments
Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., blesses people on the Mexican side as he distributes Communion through the border fence in Nogales, Ariz., April 1. A group of U.S. bishops, led by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, celebrated Mass at the border calling attention to the plight of migrants and appealing for changes in U.S. immigration policy.  CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., blesses people on the Mexican side as he distributes Communion through the border fence in Nogales, Ariz., April 1. A group of U.S. bishops, led by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, celebrated Mass at the border calling attention to the plight of migrants and appealing for changes in U.S. immigration policy. CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

Against the backdrop of rusted iron slats of a 30-foot wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley and a dozen other bishops from three countries prayed April 1 for compassion and for a return to ideals that welcome immigrants.

More than 300 people formed the outdoor congregation on the U.S. side of the border and hundreds more participated on the Mexico side, receiving Communion pressed into hands that stretched between the slats, illustrating that, as one teenage member of the choir put it, “we are all one community — we are all bilingual and bicultural.”

Referring to a visit by Pope Francis last summer to the Italian island of Lampedusa where migrants from the Middle East and Africa try to enter Europe illegally, Cardinal O’Malley in his homily quoted the pope’s comments about the “globalization of indifference.”

“We have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis said. “We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the Levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the good Samaritan.”

Cardinal O’Malley quoted Pope Francis further: “The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people.”

Auxiliary Bishop Luis Zarama of Atlanta serves juice to men at the Aid Center for Deported Migrants in Nogales, Mexico, March 31. Dinner that evening was served by visiting U.S. bishops. The center, run by the Kino Border Initiative, was one stop the bishops made during their tour of the border area near Nogales.  CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

Auxiliary Bishop Luis Zarama of Atlanta serves juice to men at the Aid Center for Deported Migrants in Nogales, Mexico, March 31. Dinner that evening was served by visiting U.S. bishops. The center, run by the Kino Border Initiative, was one stop the bishops made during their tour of the border area near Nogales. CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

Walking in their footsteps

The Mass capped a two-day experience of the border region for bishops from as far away as Atlanta and Guatemala. Beginning with a Mass the day before at San Xavier del Bac Mission outside Tucson, which dates from when the entire region was part of Mexico, the bishops then walked along rough desert paths used by migrants.

Crawling under strands of barbed wire, scrunching low to walk through a culvert beneath a road, dodging cactus and sticker bushes, the group came upon empty water bottles, backpacks and other belongings abandoned by the migrants who cross the hilly, rocky terrain as they try to get past the various security measures and agents used by the Border Patrol to try to stop illegal immigration.

Then the group met with the Border Patrol at their regional headquarters, before crossing into Mexico to serve dinner at a church-sponsored “comedor,” or soup kitchen. The “comedor” serves people who have been deported or who are deciding whether they want to try to sneak into the United States.

“We come to the desert today because it is the road to Jericho,” said Cardinal O’Malley in his homily. “It is traveled by many trying to reach the metropolis of Jerusalem. We come here today to be a neighbor and to find a neighbor in each of the suffering people who risk their lives and at times lose their lives in the desert.

“The hard work and sacrifices of so many immigrant peoples is the secret of the success of this country. Despite the xenophobic ranting of a segment of the population, our immigrant population contributes mightily to the economy and well-being of the United States.”

He added that the group came also to mourn the loss of “countless immigrants who risk their lives at the hands of the ‘coyotes’ (smugglers) and the forces of nature to come to the United States.”

The Mass, which was shown live on the Internet and can be seen on YouTube, was organized by the Jesuits’ Kino Border Initiative and Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Diocese of Tucson and the Archdiocese of Hermosillo, Mexico, worked closely together in arranging the details. Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas and Hermosillo Archbishop Ulises Macias Salcedo were among the concelebrants.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., ducks under a barbed wire fence as a group of U.S. bishops tours an area of the Arizona desert north of Nogales March 31.  CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., ducks under a barbed wire fence as a group of U.S. bishops tours an area of the Arizona desert north of Nogales March 31. CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

Dick Goddard, a Knight from St. Pius X Parish in Tucson, was among the volunteer ushers. He said he’d only learned about the Mass a day earlier but thought it important to attend. He had made the hourlong drive to the border with three fellow parishioners.

“They say we have a broken immigration system,” Goddard said. “Obviously we do. Human rights and dignity have gotten lost in the whole thing. We’ve got to do something to get attention to that.”

Cardinal O’Malley, preaching during the Mass, ticked off statistics: 400 bodies found in the border region each year; 25,000 children who arrived in the U.S. last year unaccompanied by relatives; 30,000 people without criminal records held in immigration detention, at a cost of $2 billion annually; and more than 10 million people without legal immigration status living in fear of discovery, deportation and separation from their family members.

“The system is broken and is causing untold suffering and an untenable waste of resources, human and material,” Cardinal O’Malley said.

The border events were part of a ramping up of the U.S. church’s efforts to persuade Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and, more immediately, to end deportation and detention policies that are dividing families.

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  • tschraad

    I agree that our immigration laws are not working. Is it because of the government not enforcing the law? Is it because of the millions of illegals that do not belong here? Is it because of the government of Mexico that does not respect the humanity their citizens? Is the source of this problem, Mexico and not us?
    What do our Bishops want? Open borders? Can we absorb 50 million more people without destroying our jobs, our education system, our health system, our welfare system? Etc. At what point is charity more important than providing food and shelter for our own family?
    The Bishops are asking for comprehensive reform, but do not state what reform is needed or wanted.
    Instead of the Bishops speaking compassion, why not tell the Catholics in America, how they would change the immigration laws. If we knew, then maybe we could support them. Comprehensive reform is not needed as we now know that comprehensive reform in the health care was a disaster.

    • TCSEditor

      Thank you for your interest in the issue and taking time to comment. Both our Minnesota bishops and U.S. bishops have been clear for a long time about what they would like to see regarding comprehensive immigration reform. Here is a link to a story from last fall. I hope it’s helpful.
      http://thecatholicspirit.com/news/local-news/archbishop-panel-urge-support-immigration-reform/

      • tschraad

        TCSEditor, as you probably noticed, I replied to that article also. I currently live in New Mexico six months of the year. Yes, Our Lady of Health is about 90% Mexican and a conservative guess by the locals is that many are illegal. We are very close to Santa Rosa of Lima pastor and he does not want to know who is or who is not but off the record, he feels most of the people are illegal, more so than our Church. Father Jesus is having a tough time paying his bills.
        Most of our friends are Mexican and are very compassionate, helpful, warm and very loving. We value them. But their complaint is that the illegals have lower their wages and have taken their jobs away. We had dinner with the Caparro families this past Friday and he is a cement worker. I ask him if he could expand his business by doing rock walls(he hires only when he gets a job)

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