Pope Francis’s presence at the Mexican-U.S. border, and especially his way of highlighting the plight of migrants, was rich in symbolism. And yes, with that it also spoke volumes against certain politicians’ derogatory words about migrants. But almost more intriguing for me were the recalibrations of “presence” that were taking place during Pope Francis’s visit to the borderlands. These recalibrations, in large part, are a result of recalibrating what it means to be present in the digital age (in the interest of full disclosure: I am working on a book related to digital media and liturgical practices, so am ‘professionally’ intrigued…).
A headline in the New York Times put it thus: “Pope’s Presence Crosses Border Into U.S., Even if He Doesn’t.” Concretely: the Mexican city Ciudad Juárez shared, in many ways, in the Papal visit to its other half across the narrow river. As Pope Francis presided at the former fairgrounds in Ciudad Juárez, he intentionally celebrated in communion with those gathered in a stadium in El Paso where the Mass was simulcast on a giant screen. Toward the end of his homily, Pope Francis explicitly greeted the community celebrating with him across the river. And at the closing of Mass, the Pope said this: “Thanks to the help of technology, we can pray, sing and celebrate this merciful love that the Lord gives us, and that no border will keep us from sharing.”
I am heartened by that. One of the things I am discovering while writing this book is that we might need (and our tradition has) more complex notions of liturgical presence than a body count of who is gathered in one, clearly bounded space. The latter notion seems to me to be inadequate in and for the digital age.