Every year on All Souls Day Nov. 2, the people of God from the Mexico side of the border and from the United States side gather at the fence that divides our two countries at Anapra, N.M., to celebrate the Eucharist.
Priests and bishops from both countries concelebrate the Mass. Two tables are aligned on each side of the fence and, although we cannot be exactly together, we can at least see and wave at each other. We may be barred from physical unity, but another kind of unity exists — the unity that only the Eucharist can achieve:
One bread, one body, one Lord of all,
One cup of blessing which we bless,
And we, though many, throughout the earth,
We are one body in this one Lord.
Our common faith is the strongest element that unites us, that faith which transcends differences in languages, race, cultures and political history. It is the oneness which provides hope for those who have no human reason to hope and nowhere else to turn for support.
On both sides of the border we feel each other’s agony, each other’s pain, each other’s anguish, each other’s sorrow and grief. They, on account of the extreme violence of the drug wars and poverty; we, on account of seemingly unending wars and a government that is becoming increasingly less caring [and] less compassionate, which makes life ever more difficult for the little people, the poor, the elderly, the unemployed and the immigrant.
The border Mass is just like any other Mass. However, it takes on a specific meaning because of the place where it is celebrated and the reason for its celebration. Because it is celebrated on All Souls Day, those who have died along the border are especially remembered. I will mention those instances in the Mass that have a special significance at the border:
Penitential Rite: We ask for God’s forgiveness for the injustices and the violence suffered by immigrants both here and in Mexico and for immigration laws that are against the dignity of the human person.
Liturgy of the Word: The Mass takes place practically at the base of Mt. Cristo Rey. At the top of this mountain is a statue of Christ the King. From the cross, the eyes of Christ gaze on things which sadden him and also things which meet with his approval.
Presentation of Gifts: At this moment in the Mass, individuals approach both altars with similar symbolic gifts:
Crosses: Symbolize the faith that we share, and the faith that strengthens the immigrant throughout his or her trying journey.
Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe: Symbolizes our Blessed Mother who offers protection to those on the journey and comfort to fragmented families.
The American and Mexican flags: Symbolize the two countries that yearn for peace along the border.
Tennis shoes: Symbolize the only mode of transportation so many immigrants have across the harsh, unrelenting elements of the desert.
Food and water: Symbolize the basic necessities of the immigrant making the journey.
Backpacks: Symbolize all the immigrants bring with them on their journey, including their hope for a new future [and] the skills and talents to share when they arrive in their new home.
The Eucharistic Prayer: Because this prayer is addressed to God the Father, we are acknowledging that we are all daughters and sons of God and that we all deserve the respect of our human dignity, since we are all made in his image and likeness. It is at the consecration that God acts as an immigrant because he enters into our world as the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of our Lord. After the consecration, we pray the anamnesis, the prayer to the Holy Spirit for unity among all peoples.
“Through Him, With Him and Him”: At this moment we offer Jesus to the Father and at the same time offer ourselves, with all our joys, laughter, achievements, hopes and dreams as well as our sorrows, tears, failures, fears and frustrations.
Our Father: [It] reminds us that we are all equal children of the one Father. This one Father does not want his children doing violence to one another nor to practice any kind of injustice. He also wants his children to respect and live in peace with each other.
Sign of Peace: The ugly fence that separates us makes it impossible to give one another an embrace — “el abrazo” — so we must be content with just touching with the palms of our hands and smiling, yet the joy of the moment knows no bounds and nothing can prevent us from sharing the joy of being together. n Communion: We eat of the same Body and drink of the same Blood of Christ. We receive the same gift of divine life in our hearts. At the Eucharist we accept that the authentic human yearnings of the heart happen to coincide with the deepest yearnings of God for his children in the world. The fence at which the Eucharist without borders is celebrated contradicts aspects of our common ground as the Body of Christ. It is also a powerful reminder of St. Paul’s exhortation that we:
“Make every effort to preserve the unity which has the spirit as its origin and peace as its binding force. There is one body and one Spirit, there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and works through and is in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6).
Bishop Ricardo Ramirez heads the Diocese of Las Cruces, N.M. This column is reprinted with permission from the diocese’s website at http://www.dioceseoflascruces.org.