Wednesday, February 17, 2016

At the Border

Pope Francis concluded his historic pilgrimage to Mexico today with a Mass in Ciudad Juarez, right at the border between Mexico and the US. Across the Rio Grande in El Paso, a large crowd also participated in the celebration, thus creating unity where politics has separated and divided. Indeed, the Pope ended his homily  by addressing his congregation across the border. 

"I would like to take this occasion to send greeting from here to our dear sisters and brothers who are with us now, beyond the border, in particular those who are gathered in the University of El Paso Stadium ... With the help of technology, we can pray, sing and together celebrate the merciful love that the Lord gives us and that no border can stop us from sharing. Thank you brothers and sisters at El Paso of making us feel like one family and one, same, Christian community."

The border as it presently exists is a fitting monument to US nativism, xenophobia, racism, and just plain old meanness of spirit. But even the border couldn't stop the Pope's blessing from reaching those on the US side who were disposed to receive it.

Celebrating the liturgy of this Lenten weekday, Pope Francis based his homily on the account of the Prophet Jonah's mission to Nineveh, and the Ninevites conversion and repentance.  "The great city of Nineveh, was self-destructing as a result of oppression and dishonor, violence and injustice," the Pope reminded his border-straddling congregation. So God sent Jonah "to wake up a people intoxicated with themselves."  To what "great city" and its "people intoxicated with themselves," is that message being addressed today?

The Pope did not allude to the historical site of Jonah's Nineveh, modern Mosul in Iraq, and victim of conquest by ISIS - part of a great regional conflict which has destabilized nations and sent peoples pouring across borders in search of security, creating yet another contemporary immigration crisis.

He did, however, directly address the immigration crisis he could see in front of him, that the could see in the ugliness of the border, where "there are thousands of immigrants from Central America and other countries, not forgetting the many Mexicans who also seek to pass over 'to the other side'. Each step, a journey laden with grave injustices: the enslaved, the imprisoned and extorted; so many of these brothers and sisters of ours are the consequence of a trade in human beings." And he acknowledged "the work of countless civil organizations working to support the rights of migrants. ... the committed work of so many men and women religious, priests and lay people in accompanying migrants and in defending life. They are on the front lines, often risking their own lives. By their very lives they are prophets of mercy; they are the beating heart and the accompanying feet of the Church that opens its arms and sustains."

No one there would have been unaware of the US presidential election and of how one political party in particular is pursuing an anti-immigrant strategy that dishonors this country and divides us from our neighbors. 

This Lent, the story of Nineveh remains as relevant as ever.  "There is still time to change, there is still a way out and a chance, time to implore the mercy of God."

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