On his last day in Mexico Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Ciudad Juarez, a city just across the border from El Paso, Texas. This special Mass and the many blessings from it were for those on both sides of the border. There is a very special relationship between these two border communities.
The hallmark of Pope Francis’ papacy has been the loving gift of welcoming the stranger. At Mass, the pope stated that all of us without exemption have to do better and not punish people leaving for a more prosperous and safe life. In the Americas, he explained we are all “strangers” and that he is a proud son of Italian immigrants.
As children of God we are asked to recognize the plight of people who risk their lives to flee violence and poverty at home and to put a human face on those who leave. The greatest tragedy for the modern world according to the Holy Father is “forced migration.”
In his homily the pope urged people to have an open heart for those fleeing gangs and violence in their homelands, recognizing those men, women and children fleeing from Mexico and Central America. In his Mass Pope Francis described this special call for God to grant us conversion, “the gift of tears and to open our hearts in seeing the suffering faces of the countless men and women.” He concluded his homily by exclaiming very forcefully, “No more death! No more exploitation!”
He explained that we as Catholics cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant “the migration of thousands of people, whether by train, or highway or on foot crossing hundreds of kilometers through mountains, deserts and inhospitable zones.”
In planning the trip to Mexico, the pope insisted on celebrating Mass on the border to underscore that the impenetrable borders are nothing more than “monuments of exclusion” for many. There he prayed and placed flowers for more than 6,000 migrants found dead on the United States side of the border between 1998 and 2013.
In effect, this trip was like the pope visiting Ellis Island in New York City. Before Mass, Pope Francis mounted a platform with a huge cross constructed next to the Rio Grande, the river that separates the two countries, and blessed a group of about 400 people across the river in El Paso, many with families seeking asylum in the United States.
Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, expressed how in seeing the immigrants and their suffering no one is exempt from the conversion of one’s heart to help them: government leaders, politicians, bishops, clergy, young people, families, prisoners, business leaders, etc.
The pope said that thanks to technology we can pray, sing and celebrate together God’s “merciful love which the Lord gives us and which no frontier can prevent us from sharing.” He described lovingly how we are all one family and the same Christian community on both sides of the Rio Grande.
Ending his trip, the pope described how “at times I feel like weeping to see so much hope in a people who are suffering so much.” At the same time, Mexicans expressed with their presence, their prayers, their cheers and their love how Pope Francis brought them hope, too.
Father Gus Puleo is pastor of St. Patrick Parish, Norristown.