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Despite Border Patrol Ban, Communion Celebrations Continue at Historic Border Park--”For Now

(Karl W. Hoffman)

Editor's Note: Impacts of the border wall are important nationally and internationally, as well as for people in San Diego County. Each Sunday afternoon, Friends of Friendship Park gather at the historic venue to celebrate communion through the U.S.-Mexico border fence. Rev. John Fanestil, a pastor in the United Methodist Church and Executive Director of Foundation for Change, sent this poignant report to East County Magazine on closure of Friendship Park to the public.

First lady Patricia Nixon dedicated Friendship Park in the 1970s as a symbol of bi-national goodwill. All U.S. laws were waived by former Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff to speed construction of the border fence. Now a coalition of elected officials has sent a letter urging President-elect Obama to intervene and save Friendship Park. Led by Congresswoman Susan Davis, other local elected officials who signed the letter include Congressman Bob Filner, State Senators Denise Ducheny and Christine Kehoe, Assembly members Lori Saldaña and Mary Salas, and San Diego City Council members Ben Hueso and Donna Frye. For now, U.S. citizens are resorting to civil disobedience to share communion with friends and family members through barred walls at the border.

By Rev. John Fanestil

Photos by Karl W. Hoffman

Friendship Park
Karl W. Hoffman

This last Sunday, January 25, we celebrated communion across two different fences. Let me tell you why.

As we do each Sunday, we gathered at 2:30 p.m. at the entrance to Border Field State Park and began our hike to the border. As we approached the border fence on the beach, we saw that there were four or five vehicles up on Monument Mesa, where usually there are only one or two. I felt my heart beat a tad bit faster and I began to think that this was the day that Customs and Border Patrol would begin to enforce the ban they have declared on public access to Friendship Park .

As we climbed up on to the mesa, we approached the mesh fence that has been used to mark off Friendship Park as federal property. We were approached by a very cordial Border Patrol agent, a woman. She informed us -- almost cheerfully -- that the land inside the mesh fence was a construction zone and that our entry was not permitted. "We know you are good law-abiding citizens," she said, "and we hope you will obey the law." She also made a point to emphasize, "We have cameras trained on this area and your photographs will be taken." She turned and headed for her vehicle, and then remembered she had forgotten to communicate one last thing: “If you climb over the fence or damage it in anyway, you could be charged with destruction of federal property."

Friendship Park
(Karl W. Hoffman)

I thanked her for the information, and I meant it. The previous Sunday the agents on duty hadn't bothered to acknowledge our presence -- they just let us celebrate communion and chose to look the other way. This had left us feeling a little uncertain, unsure of whether the ban on public access to Friendship Park was already in effect. The communication this Sunday was both polite and clear. It is now illegal to enter Friendship Park. We have also been told in no uncertain terms that when the construction project is complete, the ban on public access will become permanent. What has been for generations a celebrated meeting-place on the U.S.-Mexico border is now intended to be nothing more than an extension of the "enforcement zone" that is being created between double and triple walls across hundreds of miles of the border's length. If Customs and Border Patrol have their way, no-one will enter this enforcement zone from the south and no-one will be allowed to enter it from the north, either. Excepting authorized law enforcement officers, it will become, quite literally, a "no-man's land."

After thanking the Border Patrol agent for her clear communication, a number of us -- with equal good cheer! --stepped around the mesh fence and into Friendship Park. Before doing so, however, I made clear to everyone in our company that this was an act of civil disobedience, and I emphasized that no one should feel obligated in any way to join us. (Across months of celebrating communion at Friendship Park we have established this as an important principle -- no one is asked or expected to participate in anything with which they are not comfortable.)

As I prepared to serve communion, it occurred to me we would have to be serving

Friendship Park
(Karl W. Hoffman)

communion across TWO fences this week. As always, there were people on the Mexican side of the border fence. But this week, there were also a good number of people left behind the mesh fence at the cusp of the mesa on the U.S. side of the international boundary.

I moved the communion elements closer to the intersection of the two fences --one fence made of steel, running east to west, marking an international boundary; the other fence made of mesh, running south to north, marking off a new patch of U.S. soil that has just been declared by the U.S. government off limits to U.S. citizens.

I began: “On the night in which Jesus gave himself up for us, he took bread … En la noche en que se entregó por nosotros, Jesús tomó el pan …”

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