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Diocese of Phoenix Commemorates Illegal Immigrants Who Died at Mexico Border

The Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona, commemorated thousands of illegal immigrants who died at the Arizona border with Mexico over more than a decade, with a Mass and procession with wooden crosses on Friday.

The ceremony took place days after Texas Federal Judge Andrew Hanen issued a temporary injunction halting President Barack Obama’s executive amnesty program. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by then Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on behalf of the State of Texas. Texas has been joined by twenty-six states, including Arizona.

“We’re going to pray and we’re going to try to raise public awareness of this tragic situation,” said Eduardo Nevares, auxiliary bishop or Phoenix. “We want to offer prayer for their souls, that God be merciful to them, and their families that I’m sure are very much grieved they never saw their loved ones again.”

The bishop said that an estimated 2,391 undocumented immigrants have died since 1991 near Arizona’s border with Mexico.

“We must pray for these souls and for those left behind, their families and children, and try to awaken the awareness of these deaths among the Anglo community,” said the bishop.

In an initiative intended to keep pressure on the immigration question, Nevares blessed 134 wooden crosses with the names of immigrants who died during the 12 months prior to September 2014.

The crosses were painted red, white and blue, and many had “unknown” written across them, symbolizing the anonymity of immigrant remains that were never identified. They were made by students from Arizona Catholic schools and some of them were hung on trees outside the Diocesan Pastoral Center, where the ceremony began.

On the plane from the Philippines back to Rome in January, Pope Francis remarked that when visiting the United States next September, he would have liked to walk across the border from Mexico to the US. “To enter the United States from the border with Mexico would be a beautiful gesture of brotherhood and support for immigrants,” the Pope told reporters.

For his part, Nevares said: “We all must remember that we are children of God, all who are crossing the border illegally do so by necessity, there is much suffering involved, and what we are here we must remember that many of our ancestors were also immigrants.”

After the blessing of the crosses, the Bishop led a procession of 100 people through the streets of Phoenix to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, where they held a Mass.

Father Cristofer Pereyra, the director of the Hispanic Mission Office of the Diocese of Phoenix, said that this is the first time such an event was held in this city, which lies 150 miles from the border with Mexico.

“We want to raise awareness that men, women and children continue to die in the desert,” he said.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter: @tdwilliamsrome

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