Worshipers took part in La Posada Sin Fronteras on the United States side of the U.S.-Mexico border at San Diego. (Photo by Walt Johnston)
(PNS) For 25 years, Christians have gathered at both sides of the United States and Mexico border at San Diego and Tijuana to re-enact Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus Christ in a service called La Posada Sin Fronteras.
But some things were different at this year’s edition, the 25th, which included participation by ministers and members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Southern California, as well as representatives of the Compassion, Peace & Justiceministries in Louisville.
“For many of these 25 years, this celebration was held across the border fence, where neighbors separated by national location could at least touch, exchange small gifts, and worship as one community,” Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Director Laurie Kraus said in an email recounting the Saturday service. “This year, two walls, a no man’s land patrolled by ICE and hundreds of additional feet of restricted space separated us.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, the barrier was 60 feet wide and was put in place in November when the migrant caravan that has been traveling through Mexico from countries such as Honduras and Guatemala arrived at the southern border in in Tijuana.
In the La Posada service, which is held in many communities along the border and elsewhere, Mary and Joseph are rejected by many potential hosts before finally finding acceptance at a designated home where celebration ensues. In many presentations of the service, Mexican and United States citizens have worshiped together. But that was not possible with the additional barriers between the two parties.
A barrier added due to the arrival of the migrant caravan in Tijuana kept worshipers back from the border fence in San Diego. (Photo by Sara Lisherness)
“There was a yearning and a longing in the group,” said Sara Lisherness, director of the Compassion, Peace & Justice Ministries for the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “The Posada is kind of a playful event where they go door-to-door and there’s no room at the inn, no room at the inn, and finally there’s room and a celebration with food and a piñata and all of that.
“So it’s usually a fairly joyous celebration. But it was hard — you could hear on the other side the mariachi, and they were making a good effort. But on our side, it really felt like people’s hearts were breaking and as we sang ‘Silent Night,’ there was a bit of lamentation to it.”
Lisherness and Kraus went to the Southern California border at the invitation of representatives of the Presbytery of the Pacific, which has been working to help migrant families attempting to apply for asylum.
The Rev. Elizabeth Gibbs Zehnder was part of a group that traveled to Tijuana in late November to meet people in the caravan and hear their stories.
“They shared stories of fleeing family violence and community violence; hearing from a neighbor that the caravan is coming through town that day, and deciding that it would be the safest way to travel, packing a backpack and going,” Zehnder wrote in a report for the grassroots group Matthew 25 of Southern California.
Rev. Heidi Worthen Gamble wrote in an email that church leaders and members are engaging in a variety of actions at the border to raise awareness of the situation many people in the caravan face, including support of a hunger strike by some caravan members to protest the “metering” process of evaluating asylum seekers. That has significantly slowed down the number of people processed each day, even as new migrants arrive.
It was inescapable to participants that the service was taking place against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration and enhanced border security.
“If this nativity story doesn’t tell us anything else, which it tells us so much, but it’s that kind of unequivocal welcome that we’re called to provide,” Lisherness said.
Lisherness said a striking, somber moment was a reading of the names of the people who died making the journey to the border, and the number of women and unknown people among the deceased.
While the event may have taken place against a bitter political backdrop, Lisherness said the focus of participants was on the meaning of the moment and the fellowship — even if from a distance.
“This was not the activists of the world, though I am sure there were many activists involved,” Lisherness says. “People did this out of a deep yearning and a deep sense of a call to be faithful.
“It was really prayerful. It was a deeply spiritual event, and that was the sole purpose of this: to bear witness as the body of Christ.”
Laurie Kraus, director of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and Sara Lisherness, director of Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries, on the United States side of the U.S.-Mexico border between San Diego and Tijuana. (Contributed photo)
Kraus recalled, “When the time came to sing the Posada song and end our gathering, neighbors from Mexico sang the part of Joseph, while those of us from the U.S. began with our refusal, finally yielding to a welcome. There was little sense of call and response across the border, just the echoes of singing, out of sync somehow, as though straining for one voice, but prevented.
“Still, we sang, knowing that Advent hope, like justice, has a long arc in history, and if we keep faith with one another and with God, hope will not disappoint.”
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