By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
ROME – After weeks of active protests against the Trump administration’s family separation policy, The Tablet has learned that a delegation of U.S. Catholic bishops will visit the U.S.-Mexico border this weekend.
Multiple sources have confirmed to The Tablet that the delegation is planning to celebrate a Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle on Sunday in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, which has long been a popular pilgrimage site for Latino Catholics and will also visit a detention center in Brownsville, Texas.
In April, the Trump administration enacted a “zero tolerance” deterrence policy aimed at reducing the number of individuals seeking to come to the United States by separating parents from their children upon arrival at the border.
During that same period, more than 2,300 children are believed to have been detained and kept in questionable detention facilities. While the policy was in effect during both the Bush and Obama administrations, Trump became the first to enforce it.
Following an uproar from members of both political parties, the president signed an Executive Order on June 20, in which he halted the practice.
At the bi-annual meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) earlier this month, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, N.J., suggested that the bishops send a delegation to inspect child detention facilities to offer a physical sign of solidarity with migrants and refugees.
At the time, Cardinal Tobin lamented the “hardening of the American heart” and recommended the delegation “as a sign of our pastoral response and protest against what is being done to children.”
Soon thereafter, USCCB president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo announced that Bishop Joe Vasquez, head of the USCCB Committee on Migration, and Archbishop José Gomez, head of the working group on migration, would be responsible for exploring the possibility of the border delegation, and in response, received a round of applause from the bishops at the meeting.
Following Trump’s election in November 2016, immigration has taken center stage as the number one priority for the U.S. bishops.
In April 2014, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston led a delegation of eight bishops to Nogales, Arizona where they celebrated mass before the 20-foot-high security wall. More recently, in February 2016, Pope Francis visited Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and celebrated Mass at the border where he deemed forced migration a “humanitarian crisis.”
“Let us together ask our God for the gift of conversion, the gift of tears, let us ask him to give us open hearts like the Ninevites, open to his call heard in the suffering faces of countless men and women,” he pleaded. “No more death! No more exploitation!”