MISSION, Texas (CBS) — A group of Chicago priests recently traveled to the southern border to check on conditions in one of the poorest regions of the country – and a region that could be a battleground in the fight over the border wall and immigration.
CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli went along to experience the church’s mission in Mission, Texas.
Onboard his church’s boat out on the Rio Grande, the Rev. Roy Snipes pointed out multiple deflated rafts. The rafts are the watercraft of choice across the United States’ border with Mexico.
Snipes sees rafts just about every time he takes his church’s boat out on the Rio Grande in Mission, Texas.
“Along with every one of those rafts is six or seven sweet dreams, and maybe six or seven tragedies,” said Snipes, pastor of La Lomita Chapel.
Snipes, 73, was showing a group of priests from Chicago conditions along the border, where guard towers line the riverbank.
The Rev. Don Nevins, from St. Agnes of Bohemia in Little Village, was among the group from Catholic Extension that made the 1,500 mile trip.
“The Statue of Liberty says we’re welcoming the stranger, and we’re hoping for them to have a better life and new opportunities here,” Nevins said, “and we’re saying, ‘No, you can’t come.’ It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.”
U.S. Border Patrol numbers show that 200 to 400 people have died each year recently trying to come to America. Many drown in the Rio Grande.
Snipes said the people who are dying are would-be neighbors.
“To demonize poor people who are struggling and striving to survive, and taking great risks so their families can survive – to demonize them is despicable,” he said. “I could use some profanity on that.”
Snipes also has to keep himself from swearing when the thinks that the bell may have tolled for his modest 120-year-old chapel.
La Lomita gave Mission, Texas its name. But the United States Border Patrol, which is seemingly constantly on guard outside the church, has filed suit to seize the land surrounding La Lomita.
They say they need it to build the border wall.
So Snipes and the Brownsville, Texas diocese are suing to prevent the sacred space from being sealed off by the border wall.
“It would ruin or adulterate the whole atmosphere; obliterate the atmosphere,” he said.
Catholic Extension President Jack Wall believes that welcoming atmosphere must be preserved. So after celebrating mass, he announced that the Chicago-based group was making a $10,000 donation.
“A check that expresses so much that we believe in what you’re doing and continue doing,” Wall said.
Wall hopes the La Lomita mission of ministering to those less fortunate on the southern border can continue for another 100 years in the town that bears its name.
The priests next traveled to McAllen, Texas to check out a Catholic respite center before heading south of the border into Mexico.
Puccinelli will have more on that in the coming days.