The National Catholic Review
Dec 12 2015 - 12:18pm | Kevin Clarke

According to Chicago's Catholic Extension Society, Pope Francis plans to celebrate an afternoon Mass near the U.S.-Mexico border during his visit to Ciudad Juárez in Mexico on Feb. 17. The 4 p.m. Mass will be celebrated at the Benito Juárez Stadium "right next to the border." The Mass will be the culmination of the pope's visit to Mexico. Also today the Diocese of El Paso, Texas announced that the Mass will include a cross-border component, adding that those details are still being worked out.

According to a statement at its website: "The Diocese of El Paso is working with local, state and federal agencies to celebrate the Papal Mass at the U.S/Mexico border, specifically along Loop 375/César Chávez Highway within eyesight of the Papal Mass. Because of the anticipated crowds for this Mass, remote locations are also under consideration."

Parishes in the two U.S. dioceses across the Rio Grande river from Juárez—El Paso and Las Cruces, New Mexico—will also receive tickets for their parishioners to attend the Mass in Juárez. Pope Francis’ plan to celebrate Mass at the border is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from both the U.S. and Mexico. The Catholic Extension release suggests it "will be a significant milestone of the trip’s itinerary."

Today's update on the pope's itinerary during his Mexico visit still leaves open the question of whether or not the pope's proximity to the border suggests that he will make a personal visit to the border fence at Juarez. A spokesperson for Catholic Extension would only say, "These details are in the discussion phase. We have no specific information that we can confirm as of now."

In the past Pope Francis has demonstrated a flair for the spontaneoous and dramatic during such high-profile visits. During a trip to the West Bank in May 2014, the pope paused in prayer before a security wall separating Palestinians from Israelis at Bethlehem. 

Catholic Extension, a Chicago-based papal society with a long history of providing crucial support to El Paso and the other Catholic dioceses at the U.S.-Mexico border, reports that it will be working with the El Paso diocese to plan the papal-visit events on the U.S. side of the border. Catholics make up 80 percent of the total population in the territory of the El Paso diocese—the third highest percentage in the country.

Bishop Mark Seitz, who heads the Diocese of El Paso said he was “thrilled” to learn of the plans for the pope’s visit and added, “We hope that in a special way Pope Francis’ visit to this region will give voice to these often voiceless people here on the border, especially children and families who are the most vulnerable. And we hope that his presence will facilitate a much-needed national dialogue that will help unite our own country around a compassionate response to the poor in our midst.”

He also highlighted the fact that the Vatican chose December 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to officially announce the pope’s visit. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the “Patroness of the Americas,” whose devotion began in Mexico but who today unites Catholics across the entire hemisphere of the Americas.

In a statement posted at the diocesan website, Bishop Seitz said, "We are thrilled that Pope Francis will make a stop through this border region. Bishop Jose Torres of Juarez and I, along with Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, N.M., enjoy a particularly close relationship as the bishops of the three dioceses located in this one metropolitan area.

"In spite of the borders and boundaries that exist, we see ourselves as one great Catholic community, and so we are immensely grateful and honored that our Universal Pastor, Pope Francis, has chosen to come to our area. We have many hopes for what this visit will accomplish."

The bishop said the pope's visit "will undoubtedly call attention to many realities that are lived on both sides of the U.S. – Mexico border, particularly the plight of so many migrants and refugees fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries, in search of better lives for themselves and their children."

"The Diocese of El Paso is very active in responding to the challenges of migrants and refugees, in collaboration with local U.S. immigration officials, to ensure that the most vulnerable in our midst (especially children and families) are clothed, housed, and loved," he said. "We hope that in a special way, Pope Francis’ visit to this region will give voice to these often voiceless people." Bishop Seitz added that he hoped the pope's presence at the border might "facilitate a much-needed national dialogue that will help unite our own country around a compassionate response to the poor in our midst."

Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, said “Having worked closely with the dioceses on the U.S. side of the border for many years, Catholic Extension is pleased to be lending its assistance and resources to help Bishop Seitz and the El Paso diocese with the planning for this momentous event. We look forward to being of help in fulfilling Pope Francis’ dream of visiting the border, and know that his presence will shine a warm and loving glow on all ‘the joys and the hopes and the griefs and the anxieties’ the people—and the church—are experiencing there.”

“In building up the faith among the poor,” said Father Wall, “we are answering the Gospel call to serve ‘the least of our brothers and sisters’ and the Gospel mandate of the ‘preferential option for the poor,’ which is a cornerstone of Catholic social teaching. During his visit to the border, Pope Francis will undoubtedly show us the way.”

According to the El Paso diocese, Pope Francis will arrive at the Juarez airport on Feb. 17 at approximately 10:30 a.m MST.

• From there, he will travel via motorcade to Cereso prison where he will meet and pray with several inmates.

• The Pope’s next expected stop will be Colegio Bachilleres where he will be met by approximately 3,600 business leaders and workers.

• Pope Francis will then travel to the Seminary for a private lunch and rest before celebrating Mass at 4 p.m. at El Punto, a large field near Benito Juarez Stadium. El Punto holds about 220,000 people and tickets will be provided to parishes on both sides of the border for those who want to attend Mass in Juarez.

• The pope’s travels through the city streets of Juarez will provide an estimated 50 km of opportunity for the faithful to greet His Holiness.

 

The full release from Catholic Extension follows below:

Pope to visit U.S.-Mexico border February 17

Papal visit to highlight the faith and hope of Catholics on both sides of the border

CHICAGO (December 12, 2015) —  The Vatican announced plans today for Pope Francis’ mid-February visit to Mexico. These plans include a visit on February 17 to the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez, culminating in a 4 p.m. Mass at Benito Juárez Stadium right next to the border. Also today the Diocese of El Paso, Texas announced that the Mass will include a cross-border component, the details of which are still being worked out.

Parishes in the two U.S. dioceses across the Rio Grande river from Juárez—El Paso and Las Cruces, New Mexico—will receive tickets for their parishioners to attend the Mass in Juárez. In addition, the Diocese of El Paso is working out details with local officials for its plans of simultaneously celebrating that Mass together with Pope Francis at the El Paso border fence. Pope Francis’ plan to celebrate Mass at the border is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from both the U.S. and Mexico and will be a significant milestone of the trip’s itinerary.

Catholic Extension, a Chicago-based papal society with a long history of providing crucial support to El Paso and the other Catholic dioceses at the U.S.-Mexico border, said that it will be working with the El Paso diocese to plan the papal-visit events on the U.S. side of the border. Catholics make up 80 percent of the total population in the territory of the El Paso diocese—the third highest percentage in the country.

Bishop Mark Seitz, who heads the Diocese of El Paso said he was “thrilled” to learn of the plans for the pope’s visit and added, “We hope that in a special way Pope Francis’ visit to this region will give voice to these often voiceless people here on the border, especially children and families who are the most vulnerable. And we hope that his presence will facilitate a much-needed national dialogue that will help unite our own country around a compassionate response to the poor in our midst.”

He also highlighted the fact that the Vatican chose December 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to officially announce the pope’s visit. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the “Patroness of the Americas,” whose devotion began in Mexico but who today unites Catholics across the entire hemisphere of the Americas.

Bishop Seitz added that the diocese was “very grateful to Catholic Extension for being an integral partner in this milestone event” and that its “longstanding support … helps us bring hope and faith to the marginalized.”

Since its founding in 1905, Catholic Extension has pursued its mission of building Catholic faith communities in poor and under-resourced U.S. dioceses. Adjusted for inflation, the organization has provided a total of more than $122 million to help U.S. dioceses along the U.S.-Mexico border with the building and repair of churches, the education and formation of priests and other leaders, and various ministries. In the El Paso diocese alone, Catholic Extension has funded projects totaling more than $18 million.

Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, said “Having worked closely with the dioceses on the U.S. side of the border for many years, Catholic Extension is pleased to be lending its assistance and resources to help Bishop Seitz and the El Paso diocese with the planning for this momentous event. We look forward to being of help in fulfilling Pope Francis’ dream of visiting the border, and know that his presence will shine a warm and loving glow on all ‘the joys and the hopes and the griefs and the anxieties’ the people—and the Church—are experiencing there.”  

Catholic Extension has had a special focus on the dioceses in Texas throughout its history. The three U.S. dioceses with the highest percentage of Catholics—Brownsville, Laredo and El Paso—are all Texas border dioceses. Of all the states that Catholic Extension has supported over the years, Texas has received by far the most funding. And within Texas, the Diocese of El Paso has received funding for the greatest number of projects.  

Catholic Extension calls the dioceses it serves "mission dioceses" and says they are "places where faith is thriving but resources are scarce.” According to Joe Boland, the organization’s vice president of mission, “These dioceses are places where the Catholic Church’s missionary spirit is alive and where the Church is growing.” He points to the example of the border Diocese of Brownsville, where the Catholic population has tripled in size since 1980, to more than 1.2 million people.

One of Catholic Extension’s key partners in El Paso is Dr. Verónica Rayas, the diocese’s director of religious formation. Catholic Extension helped fund her education and is supporting her many faith formation programs in the diocese, which include leadership formation, training and support to pastors, parish catechetical leaders and catechists.

According to Joe Boland, Rayas is a “true ‘missionary disciple,’ as Pope Francis is calling all Catholics to be. Innovative, hard-working, joyous, and faith-filled, she is a shining example of the kind of great leaders we have seen emerging in mission dioceses.”

As part of its strategic initiative of providing crucial Hispanic lay leadership within the U.S. Catholic Church, Catholic Extension supports two positions in Rayas’ ministry—a coordinator of religious formation for rural west Texas and a Confirmation specialist. As part of another Extension initiative focusing on developing young adult leadership in the Church, Extension also provides a scholarship for graduate theology education and helps to fund the salary of two young adult leaders from the diocese.

Last year Catholic Extension gave its prestigious Lumen Christi Award to three Catholic sisters who work on the border and who built a remarkable faith community in the poor colonia of Penitas, Texas in the Diocese of Brownsville. The award honors exemplary Catholics who bring light and hope to forgotten corners of the country, and the three Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary—Sisters Emily Jocsun, Fatima Santiago and Carolyn Kosub—were recognized for bringing hope to the margins and for empowering a faith community in the poorest and most densely Catholic diocese of the country.

Pope Francis’ visit to the border will occur during the Year of Mercy, which the Catholic Church will be celebrating throughout this coming year. With the great poverty on both sides of the border, the visit will mark another important occasion for the Catholic Church to emphasize the mercy of God that is at the core of the Christian faith.

“In building up the faith among the poor,” said Father Wall, “we are answering the Gospel call to serve ‘the least of our brothers and sisters’ and the Gospel mandate of the ‘preferential option for the poor,’ which is a cornerstone of Catholic social teaching. During his visit to the border, Pope Francis will undoubtedly show us the way.”

Comments

Chuck Kotlarz | 12/13/2015 - 2:54pm

Under the leadership of Father Carlos Pinto at Sacred Heart Church in El Paso, the Jesuits built 14 churches and seven schools in the El Paso-Juarez area between 1892 and 1917. Sacred Heart remains the U.S. Jesuit ministry closest to the Mexican border.

Guillermo Reyes | 12/13/2015 - 8:41am

This event is a tremendous and marvelous gift to both the Mexico and USA residents! Only Pope Francis could draw such a response like no one else on the planet. Deo Gratias

No doubt presidential candidates, and their followers, will make commentary on this event.

"By their fruits you shall know them"
Gospel of St Matthew 7:6

¡Viva el Papa!

I predict millions will attend.

William Rydberg | 12/12/2015 - 2:07pm

The Mass is Christ. Is Christ divided? Not sure I agree with the characterization and the name.

I think of "Healing Mass" and "Mass". A distinction without a difference.

It's the Mass.