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Religious leaders stand with migrants at the border


More 700 people participated in a candlelight vigil at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral as part of a weekend in solidarity with migrants. Angela Kocherga/Albuquerque Journal

EL PASO – A dozen religious leaders, including Bishop Oscar Cantú of the Las Cruces Diocese, gathered for a “weekend of solidarity with migrants” that included an interfaith procession and candlelight vigil that attracted hundreds of faithful.

“We need to stand up for moral dignity and the greatness of this country,” said Bishop Cantú following the procession Friday night where he helped carry a banner that read, “Families belong together and free.”

Pope Francis sent Vatican representative Rev. Robert Stark of the Holy See’s Migrant & Refugees Section to the border.

“Every stranger that knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with God,” Rev. Stark told the standing room only crowd in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral which seats 700 people.

Some families sat on the floor of the church and an overflow crowd stood outside and watched through open doors. El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz hosted the event which included Bishop Cantú, retired Las Cruces Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, Dallas Bishop Edward Burns and Dallas Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly.

Half a dozen other religious leaders spoke during the interfaith ceremony including those representing the Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Muslim and Baha’i faiths.

Many stressed the need to put faith into action including Rev. Stark who said “We’re called to challenge every effort that tries to eliminate or criminalize migration or seeking refuge.”

The visiting bishops celebrated mass at the ICE detention center on Friday, Bishop Seitz told the crowd at the vigil. Some of the parents separated from their children during the zero-tolerance crackdown on the border are locked up in that detention center.

“Be a light in times of darkness,” said Bishop Seitz in calling on the faithful to participate in the weekend of solidarity with migrants.

The El Paso Catholic Diocese and Hope Border institute, a faith-based grass roots group, organized the two-day event which included a teach-in Saturday, “A Place at the Table: Faith Migration and the Future of our Border Communities.”

“This is a community that celebrates its identity as a border community. It’s proud of its heritage as an immigrant community. That migration is in its DNA,” said Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Hope Border Institute. “There’s a vantage point on this issue that we can offer the rest of the country,” said Corbett.

Bishop Cantú said New Mexico can help set the example even though it is a poor state. “But the people are generous and they know there’s always room at the table. We know there’s always room in our hearts. And I think as New Mexicans we need to show the rest of country how being generous doesn’t break us, it makes us greater,” said Cantú.

Nearly 200 people attended the workshops designed to engage the faithful. New Mexico State University professor Nicholas Natividad’s talk focused on border identity and social justice.

“Whether you’re in northern New Mexico, southern New Mexico or right smack up against the fence, borders cut through us,” said Natividad. “And those borders are about more than migration. … Race, gender, class, all the inherent biases we have, those are the borders that cut through us.”