The Pope plans to visit Mexico from February 12-17 and will travel to the border town of Ciudad Juárez on the final day of his trip, where he will visit the Cereso prison, meet with some 3,600 business leaders and workers, eat lunch with Catholic seminarians, and celebrate a Mass attended by both Mexicans and Americans.
The Mass is scheduled to take place at El Punto, a large field near Benito Juarez Stadium and just a stone’s throw from the border. Organizers say that tickets will be furnished to Catholic parishes on both sides of the border for those who want to attend the Mass. The venue holds approximately 220,000 people.
“During Mass, Pope Francis will undoubtedly call attention to many realities that are lived on both sides of our U.S.-Mexico border, particularly the plight of so many migrants and refugees fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries, in search of better lives for themselves and their children,” said El Paso Bishop Mark J. Seitz in a statement.
“Pope Francis is expected to approach the U.S./Mexico divide as a symbol of the same journey taken by migrants. It will also provide him an opportunity to acknowledge the faithful on the El Paso side of the border,” he continued.
The diocese of El Paso, TX, is working with local leaders of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez to enable the Pope to celebrate a second Mass at the border fence along Loop 375/César Chávez Highway.
“I am presently in conversation with our local civic leaders about celebrating Mass with Pope Francis at the El Paso border fence along Loop 375/Cesar Chavez Highway. The details of this liturgy are still being developed,” Seitz said in a statement.
Pope Francis first brought up the idea of visiting Mexico earlier this year when he said that as a sign of solidarity with migrants he wanted to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. during his September trip. Scheduling complications made the idea difficult, and the Pope decided instead to visit Cuba before coming to the U.S.
The Pope’s plan to celebrate Mass at the border is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from both the U.S. and Mexico and will be a “significant milestone of the trip’s itinerary.”
The Pope’s visit to Ciudad Juarez will also take place just as voters are heading to the polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire, where immigration policy is a major issue.
During his recent visit to the United States in September, Pope Francis met with Hispanics and other immigrants where he publicly thanked those who have sought to serve God “by defending the cause of the poor and the immigrant.” In his address, the Pope said that these people “remind American democracy of the ideals for which it was founded.”
Speaking directly to Hispanics, the Pope recognized that many immigrated “at great personal cost, in the hope of building a new life” and invited them “not be discouraged by whatever hardships you face.”
“You are also called to be responsible citizens, and to contribute fruitfully – as those who came before you did with such fortitude – to the life of the communities in which you live,” he said.
The Pope also insisted that immigrants recognize the ideals of American democracy.
“Do not forget what took place here over two centuries ago. Do not forget that Declaration which proclaimed that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and that governments exist in order to protect and defend those rights,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome