Powerful moment cited at papal Mass in Juárez, Mexico

Paul Haring | Catholic News Service

One thing led to another at the papal Mass in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, across the border from the United States.

Jesuit Father Pepe Ruiz, who teaches theology and works in campus ministry at St. Louis University High School, returned to his hometown to concelebrate Mass with Pope Francis during the pope's visit there. The priest arrived early at the outdoor site and found the spot in front of the altar crowded with about 200 priests.

Someone asked one of the priests if he could hear confessions. The priest obliged, and soon hundreds of people lined up for the sacrament, one after another for a couple hours. Some people hadn't been to confession in years and had "deep wounds" that needed healing. "It was a beautiful moment, really powerful," Father Ruiz said. "There was a lot of grace going on."

The papal Mass had much energy, joy and hope, Father Ruiz said, a welcome event for a city that has had pain and trauma because of the drug trade.

In a blog about the papal visit, Father Ruiz wrote that Juárez was once among the most dangerous cities in the world. "Locals call it endearingly Gotham City of Mexico. The violence has subsided somewhat in recent years, but the city still suffers from poverty, crime, and corruption. ... Ciudad Juárez serves as a portal for immigrants, both documented and undocumented. This places Ciudad Juárez at the crossroads of globalization, in the intersection of cheap labor, industrial development, and all their unintended consequences."

Pope Francis remarked that he had been touched by the joy and hope in a city that had known so much pain, Father Ruiz said.

The Jesuit priest recorded interviews of people from the maquiladoras, foreign-owned factories where imported parts are assembled by lower-paid workers into products for export. He was struck by how some factory owners deflected responsibility for social problems. Pope Francis urged businesses to provide wages that provide for basic needs, stating his desire in the form of dreams — such as the dream of a place where parents can play with their children. Many of the parents work double shifts, leaving their children to grow up without supervision and drifting to violence and drugs, Father Ruiz said.

The visit highlighted the need for people in the United States to pay attention to the faith of the migrant worker and their struggle, Father Ruiz said. The pope's approach cited "the best-case scenario where people stay with their families and have jobs, creating opportunities and work where they are," he added.

Elsewhere in Mexico, seeing Pope Francis was a highlight of Jesuit Father Bill Sheahan's time in Mexico.

The St. Louis University High School graduate is assigned to a Jesuit community outside of Guadalajara, Mexico, in the last stage, called tertianship, of Jesuit formation that consists of classes, ministry experiences and the making of the 30-day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola retreat.

Thanks to the Mexican Province of the Society of Jesus, he and fellow tertians received tickets to the Mass in Morelia for priests, and men and women religious.

The Pope's visit to Mexico is important to the Church in the United States, Father Sheahan said. While there are significant differences between the countries, "we share many things, including, for Catholics, our shared faith," the St. Louis native said. "Latinos, especially those from Mexico and of Mexican heritage, will continue to constitute a greater percentage of the overall U.S. Catholic population. Pope Francis' visit reminds us in the U.S. Catholic Church that, amid our differences of language, culture, etc., Christ calls us to be one Church that recognizes His presence in the plurality of faith expressions." 

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