A Mass right at the border fence, organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and attended by an impressive delegation of clergy—including seven bishops and 17 priests—drew national attention to the immigration crisis as well as scores of supporters, among them, KBI board member Lucy Howell.
by Lucy Howell
April 1 was a day of both grace and contrast. Six of us left Phoenix long before sunrise in order to reach the Morley Gate separating Nogales, Arizona from Nogales Sonora for the Bishops’ Mass at the Wall by 9 a.m. As we approached Tucson and the I-19 turnoff, the sun flashed on the bright green of the palo verde and mesquite trees. Distance signs switched from miles to kilometers, and we were conscious of climbing through more forested terrain to Nogales (which means “walnut trees” in English). Parking across from the KBI’s office on the Arizona side, we ran into Fr. Pete Neeley, just returning from an early morning desert walk with Cardinal O’Malley.
At Morley Gate, there were two viewing areas near the platform and altar, in front of the tall, rusted steel fence. This fence snakes through the hilly terrain of Ambos Nogales as a definitive political boundary. At the gate, we met several KBI board members – our chair Jane Lacovara and her husband, Phil; past chair Luis Parra and his wife, Cecy; and board vice-chair Yanula Kariakis Avila and her husband, Gonzalo (their son, Gonzalo, a fourth grader at Lourdes Catholic School, read a petition at the Mass). From the corner of my eye, I glimpsed Pamela Hoffmeister, a local artist who has created scores of paintings of migrants at the KBI.
The seven bishops represented all regions of the United States, and they were joined by a bishop from Guatemala. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, presider and homilist, is a man of great presence. He delivered his homily in impeccable Spanish, making the connection between the deaths of 6,000 migrants in the Sonoran desert and the drowning deaths of migrants off the island of Lampedusa, Italy called out by Pope Francis. In both cases, these are human beings trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.
The Mass, offered in a combination of English and Spanish, was exceptionally moving as a symbol of the blend of cultures at the border and the universality of the Catholic Church. And, of course, the beauty of offering communion to our brothers and sisters on the other side of the wall, some of whom have been separated from families for years, offered a stark contrast to the ugliness of the rusty fence looming over us all.
It was incredibly gratifying to see Father Sean and Father Ricardo in the bishops’ procession. Who would have thought five years ago when the KBI was inaugurated, that this auspicious group of bishops would come to Nogales, Sonora for Mass and spend an afternoon visiting with and feeding deportees at the Kino Border Initiative? It is my hope that the bishops’ presence calling attention to the urgent situation at the border will result in action and a compassionate response. “
We know that the border is lined with unmarked graves of thousands who have died alone and nameless. We are here today to say they are not forgotten. Sometimes they’re called illegal aliens, an expression that makes them sound like Martians. But they are our neighbors. They are our brothers and sisters.” Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston at the border on April 1, 2014