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Breaking down the borders and barriers in our hearts at the US/Mexico border

Breaking down the borders and barriers in our hearts at the US/Mexico border

The Border Mosque praying at Friendship Park, San Diego, California. | Manuel Ocano

Since November 2011 a faithful group of Christians have gathered for a weekly celebration of communion at Friendship Park, celebrating the sacrament and sharing bread and cup on both sides of the border wall. By the moving of the Spirit, and through the work of a remarkable team of leaders on the Mexican side of the border wall, this practice has given birth to an ongoing community of faith that calls itself The Border Church / La Iglesia Fronteriza. It is the only community in San Diego where each week people standing in two nations share the Christian sacrament of communion together.

For years, people have gathered at Friendship Park in San Diego. A place where borders, and friends, coincide. At the center of Friendship Park stands a historic stone monument, the first in a long line of markers that were first put in place in the 1850s, in the aftermath of the US-Mexico War, to demarcate the new international boundary. Even as the U.S. federal government has erected more and more barriers – first barbed wire, then a fence, then a wall, then a double wall – across the face of the historic meeting place, folks gather every week to join in prayer and meeting with loved ones. 

Today, San Diego Border Patrol officials allow limited numbers of the public to access the primary border wall in the United States. The American public is only allowed to visit the border wall on weekends, from 10 am to 2 pm on Saturdays and Sundays, year-round. A festival-like atmosphere prevails on the Mexican side of the border during “visiting hours,” despite the physical barriers and harmful rhetoric directly affecting their communities. Public access is not restricted on the Mexican side of the border, but people look forward to the few hours allotted to interacting with family and friends through the border wall. Through ordinary acts of love, kindness and prayer, people have sustained families, forged friendships and practiced their faith across the US-Mexico border.

Since the early 2000s, U.S. politicians and government officials have entertained the fantastical notion that the United States should somehow be entirely "walled off" from Mexico. The rise in hateful rhetoric can be attributed to changes in American society and anti-Mexican xenophobia that has moved to the forefront of American public life. Even as fear has shaped U.S. border policy, and informed so much of the public discourse about the border, people who live along the border have continued to build bridges of peace and understanding, despite perceived dividing lines of race, class, language, culture, nationality and religion.

Starting this past April of 2019, a faithful group of Muslims also began to gather regularly at Friendship Park. Calling themselves The Border Mosque, these faithful people perform the Islamic call to prayer, and the mid afternoon salah (prayer) on the Mexican side of the wall before the start of the Border Church celebration. Christians and Muslims are praying together, respectfully observing each other's religious rituals,building extraordinary friendships over a shared meal. 

This sharing of public space that sits at the heart of controversy, the US-Mexico border wall, has now been captured spectacularly in a new film, A PRAYER BEYOND BORDERS, released to the public this month and available for viewing online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJxUGAaK80Y

Inspired by the new film, we have chosen to declare October 27, A Binational Day of Prayer. A day of reflection, celebration, and prayer for forgiveness for the divisions that plague our world and pray for a renewed spirit of friendship and harmony among all people.

Prayer, friendship, family, faith – these things invite us all to create a world beyond borders.

Imam Taha Hassane is currently the Director of the Islamic Center of San Diego and leads Islamic prayers through the Border Mosque at the US-Mexico border in San Diego. Reverend John Fanestil has convened The Border Church since 2011, preaching in both English and Spanish at the border between San Diego and Tijuana.

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