Thousands Bid Farewell To Pope Francis At US-Mexico Border

Feb 18, 2016

Parishioners at San Felipe de Jesus Catholic Church in Ciudad Juárez gather to listen to the pope's mass.


  Mexico said farewell to Pope Francis Wednesday from the border city of Juárez.

The procession toward the old fairgrounds where the pope would celebrate an afternoon mass began early in the morning. Some came with the aid of walkers and wheelchairs. Others stopped to buy fried pork skin at a corner restaurant that Javier Briones has owned for 30 years.

"I’m proud that I survived to see this day," Briones said.

He’s referring to the years of heavy drug violence that engulfed Juárez beginning in 2008 when he had to pay an extortion fee to keep his business open. Those who couldn't afford to pay sometimes ended up in the graveyard, he said.

But the violence has since calmed down substantially in Juárez and Briones said no one is coming by to collect money anymore. Looking out at the throngs of papal pilgrims, he said the visit by the pontiff gives him hope.

"I give thanks to God that business is picking up for me and many others," he said.

A couple hours later Pope Francis stood before a granite altar handmade by a Mexican migrant who had been deported from Arizona. In his homily the pontiff called immigration a humanitarian crisis that shouldn’t be measured by statistics.

"Instead, we want to acknowledge migrants by their names, individual stories and families," he said.
Earlier in the day he spoke to the business community about treating workers fairly. The backbone of the Juárez economy is made up of hundreds of foreign-owned factories that help manufacture products like laptops, airplane parts and fiber optic cables. In recent months workers at those factories, also known as maquilas, have been protesting low wages and poor working conditions.   
"God will hold accountable the slave owners of our day," Francis said in his speech. "The flow of capital cannot decide the flow of life and people." 
For Patricia Perez the pope’s message felt personal. She was a factory worker herself and left Júarez when she was just 15.

"That's why we left, because there was no future for us," she said. "I used to work for a maquila and I remember not having enough money to eat."

Perez is now a U.S. citizen and lives in California. She said she felt drawn back to her hometown to see Pope Francis.  

"I'm very hopeful that people listen to what he had to say," she said. "It's never too late to change. It's never too late to have hope for a better future."

The pope’s visit also created a moment of unity between Juárez and El Paso, its sister city across the border. Thousands of El Pasoans watched the pope’s mass from a university stadium. Others went to see Pope Francis in person, crossing back for the first time in years.