NOGALES, Mexico –– Kenia Salas, about to play the role of Mary in a Christmastime commemoration popular across Mexico, said she imagines Mary as a woman of strength.
Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., serves men at the “comedor,” the kitchen and dining hall of the Aid Center for Deported Migrants in Nogales, Mexico, Dec. 20. Bishop Kicanas and Nogales Bishop Jose Leopoldo Gonzalez Gonzalez visited with migrants after taking part in a binational “posada,” a commemoration of Mary and Joseph search for a place to give birth to Jesus. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec) “I think she was worried about her baby,” Salas, 17, said before participating in the “posada” along the U.S.-Mexico border. “I think she probably was a little scared because she was about to give birth and she was in pain. But I also think she was happy. She knew what she was doing was for God, and that made her strong.”
Advocates for migrants gathered for the traditional re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter before the birth of Christ. The roles of Mary, Joseph and an angel were played by Salas and other members of Kino Teens, who work with the Kino Border Initiative in its ministry to migrants.
Joining the procession along the border fence were Bishops Jose Leopoldo Gonzalez of Nogales and Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona. Their dioceses include the area of “ambos Nogales,” the separated American and Mexican cities of Nogales.
The crowd included the Nolan family from Incarnation Parish in Palos Heights, Ill. Elizabeth Nolan, 17, had taken part in a Kino Teens border immersion program in the summer. She said she wanted the rest of her family to see firsthand the border city and be able talk with migrants and to hear their stories.
“Seeing the border and crossing over shows how close we are and yet how far apart we really are,” she said.
Along the “posada” procession route, the group heard recordings of migrants telling their accounts of separation and struggle.
In one recording, a woman weeps for her children as she tells of her Arizona workplace being raided by sheriff deputies. She was jailed and deported, separated from her husband and 11- and 18-year-old sons.
“They took away our spirit,” she said. “You feel like you can do nothing. It’s not easy being separated from your children and your family.”
Following the testimony, the “posada” group reflected on what it means to be family.
Someone read a quote from Pope Francis: “The family the Catholic Church defends is a reality wanted by God. It is a gift of God that brings to people, as well as to societies, joy, peace stability, happiness.”
The posada, which began near the DeConcini Port of Entry, ended at the “comedor,” the kitchen and dining hall of the Aid Center for Deported Migrants run by the Kino Border Initiative.
Deported men, women and children are fed hot meals there each night. This night was no exception.
After helping serve the meal, Bishop Kicanas reflected on what it means for people of faith to come together to support each other regardless of borders.
“This time of year is a beautiful time for families on both sides of our border to come together, to walk together, to share together, to pray together,” he said. “That’s what this ‘posada’ has been, an opportunity for us from Nogales, Sonora, the new diocese, and the Diocese of Tucson and the Diocese of Phoenix to walk together. That’s what the Lord is calling us to do and what this beautiful season reminds us about.”
Like so many migrants and refugees today, he said, Mary and Joseph were poor people, and they simply desired a place of comfort and safety for their child.
“The people who are seeking a better way of life remind us of ourselves. Every parent wants to care for their child, every parent wants to have opportunity for their child. That’s really the driving force of migration.
“It’s important for nations of the world to find ways to welcome the stranger, to welcome those who are fleeing violence, to welcome those who are trying to find a better way of life,” he said.
The bishop said a message of solidarity is one people can expect to hear from Pope Francis when he visits Mexico’s Cuidad Juarez along the U.S. border in February.
“I think he will surely remind us that in the church, in God’s family, there are no borders … we are one family in Christ,” he said.