LAS CRUCES – Some of the Las Cruces Catholics who went to Juárez or El Paso to participate in Wednesday’s papal Mass experienced body aches and tiredness on Thursday — but also a strong feeling of rejuvenated faith.
The excitement of being so close to the Holy Father offset the hangover feeling.
“It was truly a blessing to be there,” said Teresita Corral, who was part of a 10-member delegation representing the Las Cruces Catholic Diocese in Juarez. “It was one of the most beautiful Masses we’ve ever been to.”
“I would be lying if I didn’t say I was glad the trip came to an end,” chuckled Las Cruces Catholic Diocese Bishop Oscar Cantú, who was in Mexico during the six days Pope Francis visited that country. “I was exhausted (when it was over).
“But I’m also amazed a 79-year-old man with a bad hip and back held up so well,” Cantú said of Pope Francis.
Cantú and Bishop Daniel E. Flores, of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, were chosen to represent U.S. Catholic bishops during the pope’s visit to Mexico. Cantú was among clergy who concelebrated Mass with the Pope in Mexico City, Chiapas, Morelia and Juárez. Altogether, several million people attended the four Catholic services the pope officiated in Mexico.
Wednesday’s Mass at El Punto, the old Juárez fairgrounds near the U.S.-Mexico border, was significant to Cantú.
“It kind of brought everything of the whole trip together,” Cantú said. “There was a sense it was the scene where all the energy of the trip was quite palpable. You could just really feel the community between the pope and these cities come together.”
Cantú said he was particularly taken by the pope’s emotions during his homily and at the end of the Mass, when he expressed his gratitude to the residents of Mexico and Juárez.
“His message during the homily, that we always keep hope alive, was very encouraging and healing for a city with a lot of wounds,” Cantú said.
“That was the focus of his trip. He didn’t go to resorts, he went to visit the people who were suffering the greatest. He really put his money where his mouth is … to visit the people who have felt the most excluded.”
Cantú said the pope’s words and presence uplifted residents in Mexico and the United States who may have had their only opportunity to be near the leader of the Catholic Church.
“He sees the symptoms of a society that is very sick … that feels a lack of hope,” Cantú said. “His visit was to build up hopes in individuals, in families who could use that.”
Las Crucens Karen Lopez, 18, and Maria Lopez, 22, were at the Rio Grande levee on the U.S. side of the border Wednesday. Before Mass, the pope ascended a ramp facing the United States and blessed the people, mostly migrants, on the levee. It was closest the pope came to the international border. The relatively small group on the levee stayed there through the Mass, which was held several hundred yards away. The Lopezes said it was hard at times for them to see and hear the pope. But it was an experience they will always remember.
“We couldn’t really hear like every word he said, but I understood him,” Karen Lopez said.
She was able to wave to the pope during his brief blessing.
“I liked this experience,” Maria Lopez said. “It’s not like you can go to Rome every day to see the Pope.”
Cantú offered a brief comment when asked about an exchange of words Thursday between Pope Francis and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. The pope, responding to Trump’s comments about halting illegal immigration, said, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the Gospel.”
Trump responded: “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”
He added the pope’s comments were “disgraceful.”
The Las Cruces bishop was reluctant to weigh in.
“I don’t know if I should answer that one,” chuckled Cantú. But after a few moments Cantú added, “I think we just have to see how it’s all going to be played out. In the end, people will see the truth in those words — the truth eventually reveals itself.”
Sun-News photojournalist Robin Zielinski and The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Steve Ramirez can be reached at 575-541-5452, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @SteveRamirez6 on Twitter.
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