The New Vision

Pope’s visit to border expected to highlight Church’s outreach to poor

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CHICAGO (CNS) — With the poverty on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, Pope Francis’ visit to the region in February will be an important opportunity for the Catholic Church “to emphasize the mercy of God that is at the core of the Christian faith.”
That’s how Catholic Extension views the trip, which will take place during the church’s newly launched Holy Year of Mercy.
“In building up the faith among the poor,” said Father Jack Wall, president of Chicago-based Catholic Extension, “we are answering the Gospel call to serve ‘the least of our brothers and sisters’ and the Gospel mandate of the ‘preferential option for the poor,’ which is a cornerstone of Catholic social teaching.
“During his visit to the border, Pope Francis will undoubtedly show us the way,” he said in a statement.
On Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Vatican announced details about the pope’s Feb. 12-17 visit to Mexico. He will visit some of the country’s most marginalized communities.
Pope Francis will stop in six cities, including two in the state of Chiapas and — across from El Paso, Texas — Ciudad Juarez.
Following the Vatican’s announcement, Catholic Extension issued a news release saying it will work with the Diocese of El Paso to plan papal visit events on the U.S. side of the border. The Chicago-based papal society has a long history of providing support to El Paso and the other Catholic dioceses at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The pope is scheduled to be in Ciudad Juarez Feb. 17 and his visit will culminate with a 4 p.m. Mass (local time) at Benito Juarez Stadium right next to the border. According to the Diocese of El Paso, the Mass will include a cross-border component.
“We hope that in a special way Pope Francis’ visit to this region will give voice to these often voiceless people here on the border, especially children and families who are the most vulnerable,” said El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz.
“And we hope that his presence will facilitate a much-needed national dialogue that will help unite our own country around a compassionate response to the poor in our midst,” he added.
He also remarked on the fact the Vatican chose the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe to officially announce the pope’s visit.
The Virgin of Guadalupe is the patroness of the Americas. Devotion to her began in Mexico, but today unites Catholics across the Americas.
The Feb. 17 papal Mass at the border is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from both the U.S. and Mexico.
Parishes in El Paso Diocese and in the neighboring Diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico, will receive tickets for their parishioners to attend the Mass in Juarez. In addition, the Texas diocese is working out details with local officials for its plans to have a simultaneous celebration of the Mass at the El Paso border fence.
Bishop Seitz added that the diocese was “very grateful to Catholic Extension for being an integral partner in this milestone event” and that its “long-standing support … helps us bring hope and faith to the marginalized.”
Since its founding in 1905, Catholic Extension has been supporting the work and ministries of U.S. mission dioceses, like the El Paso Diocese. They are defined as “mission” because these dioceses have limited resources for funding both basic and essential pastoral works and ministries, and cover a vast territory with a Catholic population served by a small number of priests, religious sisters and other pastoral workers.
Catholics make up 80 percent of the total population of the 26,700-square-mile El Paso Diocese; it is the third highest Catholic percentage in the country, after the dioceses of Brownsville and Laredo, which are also in Texas.
According to Joe Boland, vice president of mission at Catholic Extension, U.S. mission dioceses “are places where the Catholic Church’s missionary spirit is alive and where the church is growing.”

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