‘Realities’ pose challenges to Catholic border communities


Separated by an international border, the communities of Douglas, Ariz., and Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, are rife with special needs.  In an effort to understand those needs better, and to develop ministries to meet them, an entourage that included Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas and Archbishop Ulysses Macias of the Archdiocese of Hermosillo made a daylong tour of the region last month.


“As brother bishops serving neighboring dioceses,” Bishop Kicanas said, “we saw and listened to concerns expressed by our priests and people on both sides of the border.”


The tour group gathered at St. Luke Parish in Douglas for a general discussion of the “realities” faced by people in the region.


Chuck Fisher, executive director of Catholic Community Services in Southeastern Arizona, told the group that since 2000 he had noticed that the border had “become militarized” and it is often difficult to gain easy passage.


He said the “anti-immigrant militia” that operates in the region is “a major challenge.”


Sister Mary Aloysius Marques, principal of Loretto Catholic School in Douglas, noted that two-thirds of her elementary students are Mexican, and some must endure long waits at the border as they commute to classes.


She said the drug situation “is a lot worse” these days and relatives of students are often victims of violence – a relative of one student was shot and killed. The drugs, she said, are “a huge temptation to get money.”


The group visited a domestic crisis shelter, House of Hope, operated in Douglas by Catholic Community Services to provide temporary housing, counseling and safety for families suffering abuse.


The bishops and other group members spoke with the caregivers and met and talked with some of the residents at the shelter, including a number of young children.


“It was moving,” said Bishop Kicanas. “They want to live ordinary lives, but they have faced extraordinary difficulties.”


Crossing the border into Agua Prieta, the entourage visited a house for migrants sponsored by the Archdiocese of Hermosillo and the detention center where the Mexican government holds Central American migrants in search of work and a better life for their families.


A stop was made at the “Just Coffee” operation, a cooperative that is trying to provide just wages and opportunities for families in Chiapas, Mexico. The Just Coffee products are marketed in the U.S., including at several parishes in the Diocese of Tucson.


The group celebrated Mass together at Holy Family Parish in Agua Prieta and later enjoyed supper together.


Participants in the day’s activities were Father Gilbert Malu, pastor of St. Luke Parish, Father Sean Carroll, executive director of the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Father Ivan Bernal, pastor of Holy Family Parish, Joanne Welter, director of social missions for the Diocese of Tucson, and others.


“The day solidified our relationship as brothers and sisters in Christ,” said Bishop Kicanas. “We will continue to look for new ways of working together in our pastoral outreach to our communities.”


Printed with permission from The New Vision, newspaper from the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona.


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