By Patricia Zapor
A group of U.S. bishops, led by Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston and including Seattle's Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, celebrated Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Nogales, Ariz., April 1. The bishops were on a two-day visit to the U.S. border calling attention to the plight of migrants and appealing for changes in U.S. immigration policy.
Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston and Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle are seen during Mass at the border fence in Nogales, Ariz., April 1. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec) View more CNS photos from the border mass and tours.
With the backdrop a few feet away of the rusted iron slats of the 30-foot wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Boston Cardinal Sean P. 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."
Bishops tour border
The Mass at the intersection of International Street and Nelson 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 figuring out 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."
Elizondo sees 'moral imperative'
The Mass, which was shown live on the Internet and remains available for viewing on YouTube, was organized by the Jesuits' Kino Border Initiative and Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration, said he and his brother bishops had gathered on "sacred ground, which is, tragically, the final resting ground for many of our brothers and sisters."
Congress has a "moral imperative" to "act this year on immigration reform," he said in an April 1 statement. We can no longer stand idly by as our brothers and sisters are subject to smugglers, human traffickers, drug traffickers, and the dangers of the desert."
The Catholic bishops, he said, stand ready to help U.S. House members on "both sides of the aisle ... find a solution to our broken system this year."
The bishops at the border, he said, were there "in solidarity with those who have died" in the desert trying to find a better life in the U.S. and those who keep risking their lives to support their families.
Inaction on immigration reform exacts "a large social cost," seen in family separation, an increase in violence and poverty, and an undermining of trust in America among young immigrants, Bishop Elizondo said. It is "a price we pay in this country every day and will pay into the future," he added.
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