A Texas Bishop on the Pope’s First Visit to the Border

Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico, his first, will be the first visit to a border area by any pope.

By Rhonda FanningJanuary 19, 2016 3:35 pm,

A little less than three years ago, a renegade within the Catholic Church was elevated to the papacy. Next month, the Argentine-born Pope Francis will make his first trip to Mexico. The five-day visit will kick off in Mexico City and include events in Chiapas, Mexico’s southern-most state that shares a border with Guatemala. He’ll also visit Ciudad Juárez, across from El Paso.

The geography of those visits demonstrate one of the main themes of this papacy: the movement of human souls across man-made borders and the need for countries to change their policies. On this visit, the pope is expected to ask the United States to open its borders to more people seeking shelter.

Bishop Mark Seitz, who’s with the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, understands the needs of people on both sides of the border as they prepare for his visit to the mostly Catholic area. Seitz says they thought the Pope’s visit to the U.S. last year was the closest he would get to Texas.

“It’s hard to believe that the Pope, the Holy Father, is coming to our area,” he says. “Clearly a major focus will be the whole question of migration.”

Seitz says the Pope sees migration from a global perspective. “He sees that this age of ours is an age of unprecedented migration,” he says. “We’re a migrant people and so the question that the Church asks is, What is a moral way to deal with these questions?”

The Pope has been critical of the way Europe has dealt with migrants on the continent and Seitz says the Pope will call out practices he sees as wrong.

“He seems to have no fear,” Seitz says. “He speaks what he sees, what he knows to be right… without worrying about whose feelings it might hurt.”

With the Pope come his masses, so Seitz says there will be logistical challenges on this upcoming visit to the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The Pope has never visited a border for the sake of visiting a border,” Seitz says. “This is new.”