By Chris Stone and Ken StoneRecalling Mary and Joseph as “illegal immigrants” seeking shelter, San Diego’s Roman Catholic leader made a pilgrimage to the border Saturday to share words of hope and solidarity.
“We are praying and hoping that the policies which emerge from the new administration will be focused upon deporting those who have committed crimes,” Bishop Robert McElroy said, “and that they will not begin mass deportations of young people that have lived their lives here and know nothing other than that.”
Speaking to Times of San Diego before the 23rd annual La Posada Sin Fronteras (posada without borders), McElroy hailed the “wonderful tradition” that drew 200 to the U.S. side of the fence at Friendship Park in Border Field State Park.
But it’s particularly important this year and at this place, he said as the first San Diego bishop to attend the rite recalling Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in Bethlehem.
“This is a time in which there is great unease and suffering and fear within the undocumented community and with all of us in our nation who stand with and care for and serve the undocumented community,” he said on world Human Rights Day. “And so my place was to be here at this moment as a sign of that support and solidarity.”Looking through the tiny square holes in the border fence, McElroy offered a 300-word prayer.
“We know the grace of God stands especially with our immigrant communities here in the United States and Mexico,” he said. “For Christ himself, who was an immigrant and refugee, speaks to us about the love which exists for God in the hearts of those who suffer greatly, in the marginalized and dispossessed.”
He said the U.S.-Mexico border wall “symbolizes so much of human failure and division” but declared “we are unified by the grace of God and powerful ways which no wall can ever defeat.”
The 62-year-old cleric concluded a 3-minute statement: “We approach the great feast of Christmas, journeying as the Holy Family did, sharing their burdens and knowing the grace of God will see us through.”
Members of the crowd quietly said: “Amen.”
Tijuana Archbishop Francisco Moreno Barrón took part on the Mexican side. Also attending were representatives of immigrant rights organizations, migrant shelters and civil society.
Earlier, San Diego’s sixth bishop reflected on the movement to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation, saying sanctuary is “not a term I want to particularly use.”
“The sanctuary concept is not a clear one in my mind,” he said. “People use it in all different ways. What I prefer … and where the church is going to be, is that we will be standing in … solidarity and protection with the undocumented community come what may.”
“Protection, advocacy and prayer — that will be our stance,” he said of the Roman Catholic Church.People of faith have to stand with the undocumented, he said — “those who are often refugees from different countries where they have known oppression — either from governments or from oppressive situations.”
During the program, people on both sides sang Christmas carols, listened to speakers on both sides and wiped away tears as they heard migrant testimonials, detailing their struggles. They read the names of deceased migrants — with each bringing the response presente.
Ana Sarai Muñoz faced the border fence and blew soap bubbles after the event she called a “beautiful experience.”
She didn’t know if the bubbles would reach the other side, but after La Posada, Muñoz felt a calling to do more for immigrants.
“This has really opened my eyes,” said the resident of Orange, who with her father was making her first trip to the border.
Muñoz said people on the Mexican side of the border told her, “My family is over there (U.S.). I don’t know what to do. I need to send money to them. I’m living here all alone. I am living under the bridges.”
It’s easy for people to just give a donation, she said, but “God made us and put us here to do more. Since He can’t be here and do it. He made us, and we’re his servants. We have to see what’s really happening, the lives that these people are living. We’re taking everything for granted here on this side. And it’s not fair.”Despite work with her church in Orange, “After this experience, I feel like I have to do more where I live,” she said. “We need to step up and do something and stop being so lazy.”
During his prayer, McElroy cited “terrible problems” in the lives of the undocumented “as they are threatened with being uprooted.”
“As the challenges [grow] deeper, we will be deeper in our union and support and protection of them,” he said.
A Spanish song of the Posada had Joseph asking: “In the name of Heaven, I beg you for lodging” and saying: “Don’t be inhuman. Have mercy on us.”
The Man of the House at first says, “This is not an inn. … You may be bad people,” even going on to warn: “For if I become angry, I shall beat you up.”
But Joseph explains that his wife is Mary, “the Queen of Heaven,” and is going to be “mother of the Divine Word.”
The Man of the House says: “Enter, pilgrims.”
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