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US-Mexico border Mass brings divided families together

Bishop Seitz greets faithful in Mexico. Below, relatives are reunited (Photos: CNS)

A Mass celebrated on the US-Mexico border fence over the weekend was marked by tearful reunions and desperate attempts to cross the border.

The Mass, celebrated by bishops of the dioceses of El Paso in Texas, Las Cruces in New Mexico, and Juarez, Mexico, brought together two girls, aged 12 and 10, and their mother, who was deported from the US seven years ago.

“Don’t cry my queens, don’t cry,” Trinidad Acahua told her children. “I love you all very much, my daughters.” The family’s embrace was an interlocking of fingers in the chain link fence that divided them.

Miss Acahua had once lived in the US illegally, in El Paso, Texas. She had a job and paid her rent. She had two children who became US citizens. But one day she drove through a stop sign on her way to work and was pulled over. When she couldn’t produce paperwork for insurance or proof of car ownership, she was taken into custody and eventually deported.

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso said the Mass had a “prayerful purpose”, explaining: “This Mass started as a remembrance of the thousands of people who have died in their desperate trek to come to the US. We pray for them as well as those immigrants who are here now but who live in fear of exploitation and deportation daily.”

The Mass was a cross-border experience. A lector read the first reading from Juarez in Mexico, while the second reading was read on the American side. The responsorial psalm was recited together, and Communion was shared on both sides. Because the border is marked there by a chain-link fence, every part of the Mass was visible from both countries. Bishop Seitz said the three communities came together in the liturgy, just as they do daily in responding to the needs of immigrants.

“They’re not coming here looking to get a new car or a new house,” he said. “Often, they come here out of fear of the lives they have back home. The life of the immigrant is not easy.”

That desperation was evident when, during Mass, 10 to 15 people cut through a seam in the border fence to cross illegally into New Mexico, according to the US Border Patrol.

Mother and child cry before Mass on U.S.-Mexico border in New Mexico

“It looks like we had about eight breach points,” said Joe Romero, acting Special Operations supervisor of the El Paso sector of the Border Patrol.

Mr Romero said many of those who tried to cross decided to turn back. At least three were apprehended on the US side. Tension ran high when a Border Patrol agent approached a young man in the crowd during Mass.

Ultimately, the agent walked away from the man, although it was not clear whether the man was one of those eventually arrested.

“This was unprecedented,” said Bishop Seitz. “We’ve always known about the desperation of those who are attempting to come to the US in search of safety. What happened [at Mass] shows that, in spite of President Obama’s recent executive action regarding immigrants who are already here, the need, the desperation to flee to safety, remains.”