By Frank Wessling
At a fence along the line where Puerto de Anapra, Mexico, borders the United States in southwestern New Mexico, poor children and women find a little relief from the poverty and fear of their ordinary existence.
Now and then two nuns from the American side arrive at the border in a little car packed with used clothing, shoes, blankets, toys, rosaries and candy for the kids.
They push the candy through holes in the fence, a strong, tight chain-link barrier, 18 feet high. The other supplies for families in that violent suburb of Ciudad Juarez are thrown over and across the border.
Border Patrol agents know the Sisters and watch warily as they complete their mission. At other times, when mercy and relief are not the reason for crowds at the fence, rocks will be thrown at the agents and their vehicle.
Ciudad Juarez, like many Mexican-American border cities, offers the possibility of jobs to Mexicans in poor rural areas to the south. But the great drug market to the north is also a magnet for illegal narcotics traffic and its murderous gangs. If jobs are found, the pay is seldom good enough to provide more than a marginal existence for a family and the siren song of easy money tempts young people toward the gangs.
On the other side of the fence not far away is Sunland Park, N.M., with its casino, race track and amusement park. That kind of fun and games is a world away from the children chewing the candy brought by Sister Marie and Sister Karen. The mothers holding their newly acquired shoes and blankets can only imagine such easy pleasures.
Mass is celebrated at the fence once a year with the Americans facing south and the Mexicans facing north. The division is like the separation of laity and professed members in some monastery chapels. The eucharistic celebration seems to be the only point of unity.
Catholic News Service reported this story of Franciscan Srs. Karen and Marie earlier this month. It was one more look at the drama on our southern border, where desperation for opportunity and safety meets a resistance of fear. It’s no way to live on either side.
From the south we feel a “different” language and culture pressing on us, along with too many poor people who will take our jobs and keep our wages low. Across the border, on the other side of the big fence, is a longing for what has drawn people from around the globe to this country for over two centuries. At that border, though, are too many poor people with too easy access unless we control it. And we can’t seem to agree politically on how to do that with dignity and justice.
Celebrating the Eucharist together may be the best we can do in seeking a solution — if we remember that the Eucharist makes us open to communion, to unity, always open to seeking unity, in faith, hope, and love.