Their altar was a folding table covered by a white tablecloth.
Their church was the bare desert.
But about 500 people came to the binational All Souls' Day Mass on Friday on the border between Sunland Park, N.M., and Anapra, Mexico.
They tried to ignore the chain-link fence that separated the crowd of faithful into two groups.
"I'm glad to be here," said Prisciliano Dominguez, a resident of Lomas de Poleo in Mexico.
Dominguez and his wife clutched the fence to talk to
Juvenio Ayala prayed Friday along the border fence during the annual Día de los Muertos Border Mass. Ayala was born in Durango, Mexico, and is now a U.S. citizen. (Adriane Jaeckle / El Paso Times)
people on the U.S. side. Mexican children asked for spare change while volunteers decorated the austere barrier with marigolds.
"It is different from the church. Here we are separated by a fence, but that's how human beings are," Dominguez said. "It's good to be here anyway."
El Paso Catholic Bishop Armando X. Ochoa said the Mass, a tradition on the border, was meant for the living as much as for the dead.
"We gather together to remember all those who have lost their lives and to challenge the living to do what we can to look for a comprehensive (immigration) law," he said.
The faithful waited for two hours for the Mass to start because of a scheduling confusion. A one-hour time difference exists between Juárez and El Paso this week because the two countries did not go on daylight saving time together.
Friday at 2 p.m., Las Cruces Bishop Ricardo Ramirez and Juárez Bishop Renato Ascencio de León took turns leading the religious service, each one on his side of the fence.
Ramirez spoke of the border as "the demarcation that means either 'Welcome' or denial of entry, and these days it means denial of entry."
The Mass was a new experience for Elsa Gual, a recent arrival to El Paso who was in Sunland Park with her children.
"They know the tradition, but they don't know how to celebrate it," Gual said of her children. "This is very interesting. We all gather for the same end."
Antonia Muñoz, of Canutillo, attends every year.
"It's for our tradition and for the tradition of being together," she said. "It's a little sad. It makes one think about our family members who are over there (in Mexico) and can't be here with us today."
State Rep. Paul Moreno, D-El Paso, said the binational Mass is even more meaningful this year because of current events.
"This year is most special because of what our country is doing to Mexican people. It is a great shame to see a fence like that where people can't even shake hands," he said.
Sister Frances Hicks, a member
Las Cruces Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, El Paso Bishop Armando X. Ochoa and Juárez Bishop Renato Ascencio Leon celebrated an Día de los Muertos Mass on Friday along the border fence near Anapra, Mexico. The Mass was in honor of immigrants who have died crossing the border. Participating in the Mass were about 500 people on both sides of the border. (Photos by Adriane Jaeckle / El Paso Times)
of the School Sisters of St. Francis who gives English lessons to women in the colonias, said she finds the annual service poignant.
"It's a wonderful reminder of why the people are coming (to the United States), not just for a better life but to survive," she said.
Louie Gilot may be reached at email@example.com, 546-6131.
El Paso Bishop Armando X. Ochoa, right, and Juárez Bishop Renato Ascencio de León talked on Friday through the border fence near Anapra, Mexico. The bishops said Mass in memory of immigrants who have died trying to cross into the United States.