I recently visited Hidalgo, Texas, in the diocese of Brownsville. The occasion was the dedication of a beautiful new church for the parish of Sacred Heart, a growing community just blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border. I had visited this community nearly a year earlier, when the steel girders for the new church were still under construction. Catholic Extension had made a matching grant for the new building, and the grateful community welcomed the group with whom I was traveling with a standing-room-only Mass in the church hall.
It was in that same hall that the community gathered once again, squeezed into pews and against the back and side walls. There was an air of joyous anticipation as the Mass began, with everyone excited to join in the procession from this building into the new one just feet away.
Brownsville Bishop Danny Flores was the celebrant, and he was joined by fellow bishops and priests of the diocese, deacons, Knights of Columbus, and hundreds of other lay people. The procession into the new, darkened church formed after a deacon gathered the sacred relics from the altar and walked with them out the door toward the new building. One, a relic of Saint José Sánchez del Río, would be used to consecrate the altar in the new church. Two acolytes—seminarians for the diocese—then removed the large framed painting of Jesus that would be mounted in an alcove behind the altar.
The song which accompanied the procession was Psalm 122, a psalm likely sung by Israelite pilgrims obeying the law to visit Jerusalem three times on a journey. Its refrain is apt for the occasion of consecrating a new church:
I rejoiced when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the LORD.
For ancient Israel, the house of the Lord, the temple in Jerusalem, was a profound symbol of the Lord’s promise. After the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years before entering the land promised to them: a land “flowing with milk and honey,” where they would become a great nation. Yet even God dwelt in a tent (Latin tabernaculum), remaining on the move, as it were, until Solomon finally built a temple as a symbol of the Lord making his home among the Israelites in the holy city.
Listening to this community sing this psalm of ascent to the temple mount, I was struck at the juxtaposition of their story with that of ancient Israel. Hidalgo, like all the communities along the border, is a place shaped profoundly by geography. All the families in this community are touched by migration—that is, being displaced from home. Like ancient Israel, their hopes are to go to the house of the Lord, to a place God has prepared for them where their families might thrive. Yet circumstances are such that home can be difficult to find. The new church, therefore, has a similar symbolic purpose: it establishes in bricks and mortar the home for communities touched by migration, much like the temple in Jerusalem did for Israel.
Toward the end of the Mass, the community recited the U.S. bishops’ Prayer for Migrant Families, giving voice to their shared story.
Show mercy to those who travel in danger,
and lead them to a place of safety and peace.
Comfort those who are alone and afraid because
their families have been torn apart by violence and injustice.
As we reflect upon the difficult journey
that the Holy Family faced as refugees in Egypt,
help us to remember the suffering of all migrant families.
This prayer is appropriate for anyone concerned about migrants, but has particular significance for a community like Sacred Heart.
Everyone knows someone who has traveled in danger in search of safety and peace. Everyone knows families that have been torn apart by violence and injustice. For them, the prayer is a common mission statement: a pledge to one another that this church, this new temple, will be a place where people will rejoice when people say “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Tim Muldoon, Ph.D. serves as director of mission education for Catholic Extension.