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.”
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.
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.
Category: U.S. & World News