Columban Mission Exposure Trip to the US/Mexico Border (3) Good Friday

6th April 2015 - by James Trewby

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A small group of Columban contacts in Britain is spending Holy Week 2015 on a Columban Mission Exposure Visit to Texas and Mexico, exploring issues around migration.

Today’s blog is written by Fr Bob Mosher SSC, the director of the Columban Mission Center in El Paso, Texas. He has been hosting the mission exposure visit.

Time and distance seem to fade away on such a day – another man was raised into the sky, nailed to wood, the same sky, as if happening right now. And with this man, our old selves died, right before our eyes, because God makes all things live, and new.

We began by arriving over the bumpy, sandy streets of Rancho Anapra, trying to find the San Juan Diego chapel. We asked for directions—and finally found it, nestled at the end of a street. People were waiting for us already, although we were right on time. 8 a.m., we had agreed the night before.

The adoration of the Cross was a simple affair—after I had uncovered the crucifix in three moments, according to the prescribed ritual, the people, young and old, then approached with solemnity and dignity and kissed the feet of the suffering image of Jesus, joined by our English visitors, whose presence they had warmly welcomed the evening before, at the Mass of the Last Supper.

After a reading of the Passion, we walked forward from the chapel into the breezy, clouded day, walking on roads of soft sand as if at the beach. Rancho Anapra, on the western edge of Juarez City, is in the northern Chihuahua Desert. Eventually, led by our own Simon of Cyrene, dressed for the part, we merged in a timely fashion with the much larger procession following a bloodied Jesus and his Cross, mocked and whipped along the main street of Rancho Anapra by a dozen Roman soldiers. This procession had started at the main church of the parish, Corpus Christi. Communications by cell phone had coordinated the meeting point successfully.

I joined up with Columban Father Kevin Mullin, both of us in albs and red stoles, and his retinue of altar girls and boys, while our visitors mingled with the throng of over a thousand people as the scene moved up a nearby hill, along steep streets and rocky roads. The view from the hill, only a few hundred feet from the U.S.-Mexico border and overshadowed by Mount Cristo Rey, was sweeping, entailing the entire district.

People along the way greeted Father Kevin warmly, his presence in each of their lives a familiar one—“I watched this boy grow up from a baby,” he would confide to me, and a few minutes later, “That little girl had cancer a year ago, but just look at her now!” He’s part of the lives of so many people here, and everyone smiles warmly at him when he sees them and waves, sometimes calling out their names. One of our visitors asked a local young man why he participated in the parish community, and he said, simply: “Because of the priest.”

People were also climbing up the road to the top of Mount Cristo Rey, on the U.S. side of the border, and we could make out their figures far above us—figures that seemed to be looking at us, as well. The sad gap between us, empty and watched by Border Patrol agents on horseback as well as who knows how many cameras, sensors in the ground and drones, was a sign of our times, so different from the more tolerant period long ago that allowed Mexicans to climb to the large, limestone cross at the top on Good Fridays past without fuss or passports, and return home peacefully, renewed interiorly.

A cinder-block chapel, roofless, half-built, surrounded the crowd at the top of the local hill after they witnessed the execution and taking away of the body of Jesus, and the communion service ended the morning’s Via Crucis. Despite the happy meetings along the way and gentle conversations, people could sense the strong connection between their own lives and the suffering of Jesus, the stirring to new life that was taking place with the vaults of their own hearts. As we descended in the rapidly thinning throng, and were guided by friends to the best shortcuts back to the chapel, our visitors and I chatted about the brief conversations we were able to sustain during the event, and we agreed on how striking the vast presence of younger adults was, as well as the sustained energy of the very old who kept up with everyone, the degree of faith manifested in such a multitude focused on following the steps laid out for them every year, keeping up their linkage to past generations and centered on the one lifted up into the sky, nailed to a beam of wood, now as then impacting observers with the enormity of God’s love for and solidarity with the personal dramas of death and rising of his People.