Being a church together on the border


Rome (NEV), 4 March 2019 – The wall separating the United States and Mexico, so strongly wanted by President Trump to prevent immigration from Central and South America, already exists in part. It’s not exactly a wall, but rather an iron sheet that not only marks the border between the countries, but also between two worlds: the more economically advanced north and the impoverished south.

So far, the wall has not stopped the migrants, who are driven not only by the misery in their countries of origin, but also by the violence of persecutory regimes, strongly conditioned by the unlimited power of criminal cartels that control the large drug trade.

Unlike what happens in Italy, to seek asylum migrants do not have to cross the sea but the desert; dozens of kilometres of walking, led by unscrupulous traffickers who are aptly called “coyotes”, and who ask for more than 5,000 dollars for a single passage. This minimises the risks of being intercepted, without luggage and without water, along the route that is always the same and in which it is very easy to get lost.

Many groups of volunteers operate in this area, including those from the American Protestant Churches. One of these is based in southern Tucson, Arizona and has chosen the biblical name of “Samaritans.” They patrol the routes, create water stations where migrants can drink, report cases of deaths to the authorities, collect people who are injured or unable to continue the journey.

Other churches have declared themselves “sanctuaries” and, even though they know it is illegal, welcome extremely vulnerable migrants in their temples which, according to US law, cannot be violated by the police authorities, unless serious crimes are committed.

While President Trump considers the wall a national priority for US security, there are many who oppose it, and the protestant church is perhaps the most organised and consistent opposer. Some theologians speak of the wall as a new “Golden Calf”, an idolatrous god to whom America bows in the name of alleged security; others denounce the immorality of funds that could be used for projects to develop countries in Latin America. Others still remember how America was once known for its ability to provide protection to those who were persecuted, a value that has been lost over time. Some pastors have been indicted for aiding and abetting illegal immigration, in the name of offering solidarity to migrants.

In the meantime, some churches work in border towns, where most of the asylum seekers are concentrated. They bring food, water, and blankets to those who try to cross the border and to those who have been rejected or – as the crude judicial language of the USA states – “deported” after having crossed the border.

Other churches go to the US side of the wall and communicate and fraternize with those on the other side. Sometimes they pray together. And together they share the Lord’s Supper, wine and bread that Jesus shared with his disciples. A Communion across the border. And this is what it means “Being a Church together”.