19 illegal immigrants remembered in special road-side Mass


Sept. 1, 2009 at 4:01 a.m.
Updated Sept. 3, 2009 at 4:03 a.m.

A roadside Mass honoring the 19 illegal immigrants who died in 2003 at Fleming Prairie Road left Agustin Nuñez with chills Monday evening.

"We got a lot of luck," he said, his voice shaky with emotion. Nuñez crossed the border illegally 15 years ago. He is now a permanent resident.

"Some of us will make it and some of us will not," he said.

About 100 community members attended the service organized by Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church to commemorate the ending of the Fatal Funnel series.

"I just felt that we needed a spiritual connection to this as well," said the Rev. Stan De Boe, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows. "As a faith community, we also need to make a response about the issue of immigration at this time, too."

A makeshift altar with communion stood in front of the memorial of crosses, barbed wire and a mariachi hat. The sun was setting behind rows of water bottles left to quench the thirst of the dead.

The service opened with Bible readings and Spanish hymns played by maraichis.

"We stand at a sacred place," De Boe said. "Here, 19 of our brothers died, abandoned and neglected, their voices can still cry out from the ground.they were seeking to come into a nation that didn't want them."

Heads were bowed, some closed their eyes. There was a respectful silence broken intermittently by 18-wheelers rumbling into the Speedy Stop gas station.

In the first part of the Mass, participants called out the names of the 19 who died and released blue, purple and yellow balloons to commemorate each life lost.

"It was a beautiful sight," Mary Gonzalez, who released the first balloon. "It was a wonderful feeling. It was like a little angel going up."

The balloons floated northward while the crowd watched in silence.

"These people are going to be recognized. They didn't die in vain," said Minnie Castillo, who attended the service. "I'm sure they're jumping up and down in heaven knowing that we're recognizing them."

Near the end of Mass, three pinto horses galloped to the barbwire where Nuñez' daughter fed them grass.

Nuñez, still in his work boots, removed his hat and lingered near the memorial after everyone was gone.

"I pass every day and every day the memories come back," he said. "All the times that I pass I say 'Thanks, God, I'm here and thanks God they're with him.'"



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