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SUNLAND PARK, NM – With their fingers sticking out through the chain-link border fence from the Mexican side, Johan 10, and his brother Irving, 11, squint their eyes against the penetrating afternoon sun to make out the people who drive up on this side of the fence.
About 150 members of area Catholic congregations and the bishops of Ciudad Juarez and El Paso gathered on Saturday, September 7th along the fence that separates two countries in the neighborhood region of Anapra to pray for immigration reform.
With leaders of the dioceses of Ciudad Juarez on the other side, and the dioceses of El Paso, Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, Brownsville, San Angelo, Piedras Negras and San Antonio on this, the U.S. side, the Catholic community showed its support for immigrant human rights by gathering for a solidarity prayer on the border desert.
Nuevo Laredo bishop, Gustavo Rodriguez Vega, and archbishop of the San Antonio archdioceses, Gustavo Garcia-Siller, conducted the prayer and said the purpose of the event was to acknowledge the necessity for an ample and fair immigration reform, according to the teachings of the Catholic society.
“What we want is to ask for the Lord’s blessing and become aware of the issue of immigrants, which is the issue of today’s meeting. It is a task the church has taken to pay attention to our most vulnerable brothers,” said Constancio Miranda Weckmann, Chihuahua archbishop.
The service was the third of its kind during that week. Rosaries for immigrants were prayed in different parishes during the month of August.
Walks, letters to congressman Beto O’Rourke (D—El Paso) and presentations were some of the activities organized by the El Paso Catholic community supporting immigration reform.
The department of Migrant and Refugee Services stays in touch with the leaders of the catholic community, which allows them to be informed of any legislative changes and so they can take action at a local level.
“We are pushing for a change, not only to welcome immigrants, but to make a change at a legislative level,” said Marco Raposo, director of a Catholic Peace and Justice Ministry.
Among the attendees of the event, the Knights on Bikes, a group of bikers from the San Pius X, parish arrived on their motorcycles in response to a call from the bishops.
In El Paso, the San Pius X parish Immigrant Ministry organizes rosaries and prayers, and refers undocumented immigrants to different organizations and help centers including Annunciation House.
For Edna Holder, an attendant at the Immigrant Ministry, it is important to publicize the services offered by the parish. “We have all been an immigrant at one moment or know somebody who is. The help is not only for the Catholic community, it is for anyone since they are our brothers in Christ,” said Holder.
The Saint Francis of Assisi sisters Francis Hicks, based in El Paso, and Arlene Woelfel, from Ciudad Juarez, have worked with immigrants along the border for more than 40 years.
The changes that have occurred along the border during the past years have been extreme according to Woelfel, going from discrete surveillance to the latest systems of electronic security. It seems that the government has some sort of phobia against immigration, said Woelfel.
The mutual dependence between the U.S. and Mexico, according to Woelfel, is something very important the community has to consider in order to demand new immigration reform. “People have to fight for a more respectful immigration reform that has limits on both sides, but is open and not closed, “ said Woelfel.
The impact the prayer service on the border can create depends on the media, according to Hicks. “We cannot let this issue drown among other issues, like Syria and other events, and we hope it is transmitted outside El Paso to show how many people are involved in the immigration reform,” said Hicks.
A 1200-page bill was approved by the U.S. Senate at the beginning of September, where for the first time since 1986 immigration laws will be overhauled and undocumented immigrants will have a path to citizenship. The bill provides for augmented borderland security, new visas and restrictions. Similar legislation has yet to be approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.
The parents of Johan and Irving, who were at work, sent them to the solidarity prayer service. During the event, the boys smile when they talk about the things they will do when their father buys them the visas he promised them years ago, to cross the border and visit their stepbrother who lives in El Paso.
Parish members from Corpus Christi, San Martin de Porres, Santa Lucia, Saint Luke, Jesus Obrero and Cristo Rey also were present at the prayer, which concluded with a promise of solidarity and a call for action.
“We commit ourselves to keep working to bring an end to gun trafficking and armed violence in our countries. And also to protect all victims of violence. This is why we ask you to contact your members of congress about these challenges,” said Archbishop Garcia-Siller.