The Mexican bishop often exchanged glances with his American counterpart as they celebrated Mass on All Souls’ Day. But instead of embracing at the kiss of peace, they touched palms—through the chain-link fence. Enduring dusty wind that created a brown haze, hundreds of Mexicans and Americans joined their bishops for the Mass. Bishop Armando X. Ochoa of El Paso, Tex., Bishop Ricardo Ramírez of Las Cruces, N.M., and Bishop Renato Ascencio León of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, concelebrated the annual border Mass on either side of the fence. The theme for this year’s Mass was “Remembering Our Dead; Celebrating Life; Working for Justice.”
Betty Hernández, 30, a mother of three and a youth minister at Corpus Christi Church in Anapra, Mexico, said the Mass helps unify El Paso and Ciudad Juárez in a common cause, remembering those who have died in the drug violence as well as those who died in the nearby deserts. Making this Mass even more poignant for Hernández was the death of her neighbor, who was gunned down at a nearby burrito stand the previous week.
Behind Bishop Ascencio on the altar were seminarians from Seminario Conciliar in Ciudad Juárez. The Rev. Hector Villa, the seminary rector, said their presence underscores much of what they are learning for their future ministries. “This Mass is a sign of solidarity, especially for immigrants who try to cross the border and encounter so many troubles to reach their goal,” Father Villa said. “We’re asking the authorities in the U.S. to be more just with the people who want a dignified life through work, and this is also a subtle sign for Mexico that they are responsible for providing work for these people.”
The Mass was initiated in 1999 at the height of the infamous murders of the Daughters of Juárez, female factory workers who disappeared and were later found to have been sexually assaulted and murdered. The number of these victims has been projected to be as high as 400.
Since 2006, Ciudad Juárez has seen about 8,500 murders as a result of a brutal drug war. And amid the death and sorrow are issues with immigration and human rights that include a redefinition of the term immigrant to include not only those seeking gainful employment in the United States but also those fleeing the violence of Ciudad Juárez. It is estimated that since 2006 more than 200,000 people have fled the once vibrant city.
In his homily, Bishop Ramírez said the Massgoers had come together “once again to ask forgiveness” for the crimes, sins, violence and injustice that the border fence represents. He cited examples of violence and death taking place in of both Mexico and the United States. He said the physical barrier of the fence should not stop those on both sides of the border from loving each other “as the brothers and sisters they are in the eyes of God.”