Missionary Oblates oppose border fence at La Lomita Chapel

Father Roy Snipes after he led a procession to the La Lomita Chapel in August 2017 in Mission in opposition to construction of border wall. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

BROWNSVILLE — The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate threw its support behind the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and Bishop Daniel E. Flores against the federal government’s plan to build border fencing on land the church owns in Hidalgo County.

“We firmly believe that this wall, in this location, is a major step in the wrong direction for people on both sides of the border,” the Very Rev. Louis Studer, the Provincial of the U.S. Province of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, said in a statement. “Our 169 years of ministry here convince us that its conception is rooted in prejudice, fear and misunderstanding toward those who seek residency or asylum.”

La Lomita Chapel stands on land the federal government is seeking to take immediate possession of.

The Oblate Fathers built La Lomita Chapel in 1865, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

“One hundred sixty-nine years ago, Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, immigrants themselves, first set foot in South Texas. We have been ministering as Catholic Priests and Brothers in this region almost as long as Texas has been a part of the United States,” Studer said. “From our earliest days, La Lomita has been a sacred place to us and to those whom we serve, regardless of one’s country of origin.”
In the statement, Studer said he stands with Flores in asking that La Lomita, which the church considers a sacred site, not be divided.

“No mere border, however fortified, can begin to address the varied reasons why people take enormous risks and make incredible personal sacrifices to seek an appropriate and dignified life for themselves and their families,” Studer said.
In the statement, Studer said La Lomita has been sacred since its earliest days for the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the people it serves, regardless of their country of origin.

“It has been and remains a true place of ‘sanctuary’ in every sense of that term — a place for safety, respite and worship, accessible to all, giving peace and security in human and spiritual form,” Studer said. “To divide this site with a border wall would destroy what this place has been, and continues to be, for Catholics and others on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border.”

Furthermore, Studer said, building the border fence will not solve the complex problems of asylum, immigration and the conditions that spur people to choose the path of a migrant.
“No citizens deserve these solutions more than those whose lives, families, communities and faith will be compromised by such a wall in the Rio Grande Valley,” Studer said. “This wall is not such a solution, at La Lomita or anywhere.”

The government on Oct. 25 filed a Declaration of Taking to use eminent domain to take Diocese of Brownsville property that includes the La Lomita Chapel and property south of the Juan Diego Academy in Mission on brush land next to the levee.

The public purpose of the taking is to conduct surveying, testing and investigatory work for proposed construction of roads, fencing, vehicle barriers, security lighting, cameras, sensors and related structures to secure the border, according to the government’s filing.

The Diocese of Brownsville opposes the government’s taking of its land on numerous grounds, including that the church believes the taking infringes on its First Amendment right to practice religion freely. The church also alleges that the Oct. 10 Department of Homeland Security’s waiver of more than two dozen laws to build the fencing exceeds the authority authorized by Congress.

Right before Thanksgiving, the federal government filed a motion asking a McAllen federal judge to grant it immediate possession of the property to implement its congressional directive and to fulfill President Donald Trump’s executive order authorizing the building of more border fencing.

In court filings, the Diocese of Brownsville said it is opposed to the government taking immediate possession and has already set forth numerous detailed objections and defenses against the taking, along with arguing that the government has not adequately and fully set out why immediate possession is necessary.

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com