DOUGLAS — The barren, dusty dirt road just west of the port of entry here became a temporary church Sunday.

Hundreds of people gathered for a special Mass performed simultaneously on both sides of the border fence in the sister cities of Douglas and Agua Prieta, Son. Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, of the Diocese of Tucson, and Bishop José Leopoldo González González, of Nogales, Son., crossed the border to perform the service together in each other’s dioceses.

“Bishop José Leopoldo and I are brothers, bishops next door to each other,” Kicanas said. “And our people are neighbors and family as well. So that’s what we want to celebrate today. Despite the wall, we share a common faith.”

González, who became the bishop of the newly formed Diocese of Nogales nine months ago, says connections across borders are nothing new, but demonstrate the unity of the church.

“It’s a symbol that in the church there are no barriers,” González said. “There are no lines. There are no borders. We are one.”

The Mass was a powerful message about building bridges, said Sister Gladys Echenique, the Diocese without Borders representative from Tucson.

"Did you see when the Bishops held hands through the fence?" she asked. "It was just so beautiful."

People in Douglas and Agua Prieta circled around the bishops, standing or setting up folding chairs under the shadow of the border fence and holding umbrellas to stay cool in the desert sun.

Julio and Evelia Diaz, of Douglas, said they came to show their support for the diocese and immigrants.

“To show them that we care for the migrants,” Julio Diaz said. “I’m not in favor of all this Trump businesses.”

The Diocese without Borders organized the event.The group — which has representatives from the Tucson, Phoenix, Hermosillo and Nogales dioceses — launched in 2001 to bring solidarity across the border.

“Faith is not just going to church. It is how you live,” said Sister Lucy Nigh of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Douglas, who helped plan the event. “Hopefully we can get our countries to collaborate and cooperate and value each other and the people on both sides and be good neighbors.”

Kendal Blust is a University of Arizona journalism student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at