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October 26, 2012

Why Break the Bread?

Reflections on Communion at Friendship Park

[By Rev. John Fanestil, Foundation for Change]

This Sunday at 11 am I will meet with my friend and colleague, Rev. Saul Montiel, in the parking lot of an auto insurance company in San Ysidro, the southernmost city of San Diego County. There we will break a loaf of bread in half and split a bottle of grape juice into two containers. I will then take half the bread and half the juice to Tijuana and Saul will take the other half of each to Friendship Park, San Diego’s historic bi-national meeting place on the U.S.-Mexico border.

At 1:30 pm we will consecrate the elements and serve communion to people in both nations. We have taken to calling our gathering “El Faro: The Border Church / La Iglesia Fronteriza” because “el faro” means “the lighthouse” and Friendship Park sits in the shadow of Tijuana’s lighthouse, a famous landmark overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

The reason communion must now be served on both sides of the border fence (instead of through the border fence, as used to be the case) is simple: U.S. Border Patrol has banned the passing of items through the fence, insisting that “contraband” passed into the United States at this location could compromise our national security. To protect against this alleged threat, the U.S. federal government has spent tens of millions of dollars encircling Friendship Park in a vast security infrastructure, including a dense mesh that now constitutes the primary fence separating visitors to the park in the U.S. from friends and family in Tijuana.

Communion, October 2012 -The new mesh on the fence at Friendship Park obscures line of sight and prevents the passing of even small items.

Communion at Friendship Park, August 2008 – photos compliments of Maria Teresa Fernandez

But why will Saul and I undertake the added inconvenience of splitting a single loaf of bread and a single bottle of juice before heading to our respective destinations? Why not serve from one loaf and cup in Mexico and another loaf and cup in the U.S.?

Anyone familiar with the Christian ritual of communion will know in their gut why we have made this choice. The liturgy of communion includes reference to the “one body” and the “one blood” of Jesus, whose sacrifice is memorialized in the sacrament. One of my favorite communion hymns puts it this way:

“One bread, one body, one Lord of all. One cup of blessing which we bless.

And we, though many, throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord.” ^

As Saul and I have launched into this practice, I find that it also serves as a reminder (at least to me, it does) of the profound inconvenience faced by people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Over 100,000 people cross between San Diego and Tijuana each day through the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the busiest border crossing in the world. Drivers traveling from Tijuana to San Diego routinely wait two or three hours in line to enter the United States. Many do so three or four times each week, as they travel to work. Most of these regular border-crossers are low-wage workers who live in Tijuana because they cannot afford to live in San Diego on their meager salaries.

I cannot help but think of these people when Saul and I undergo the small inconvenience of meeting up to split the bread and juice as we prepare for communion at Friendship Park. It brings to my mind what I once heard someone say: “Immigrants clean our houses, our cars and our yards, they prepare our food and bus our tables, and they take care of the youngest and oldest members of our families.”

So that’s why I’m committed to sharing bread from one loaf and juice from one bottle at Friendship Park. And that’s why I will invite any who come to celebrate with us this Sunday to share this prayer:

Jesus, we remember that you taught us to give thanks to God for our daily bread. As we do, help us to remember those who who make it possible for us to eat, who labor long and hard to pay for their own food and shelter. And when we ask God to forgive our sins, remind us to include not our sins only, but also our nation’s. Amen.