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Texas Chapel In Path Of Trump's Proposed Border Wall


We begin this hour with President Trump's border wall - not the politics but the path. The government is already moving to make the wall real. In Texas, landowners have been getting notices in the mail informing them their land is at risk of being taken. Father Roy Snipes has received such a letter. It concerns La Lomita Chapel near the town of Mission.

Father, welcome to the program.

ROY SNIPES: Thank you. Thanks for calling.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So first off, can you describe La Lomita Chapel for us? What does it mean to you...


GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...And your community?

SNIPES: If I was a poet, I couldn't describe it well enough. It's just a serene, beautiful place. The old oblates used to come and say mass there on the - that was the - kind of the Mission trails. They'd come from Brownsville up to Roma and beyond. And Mission's kind of a halfway point where they would stop and, of course, minister to the people of the Ranchos, the community there. It reminds us that we come from a long line of love and faith and hope.

And we go there often to pray in all kind of ways. People just go out there. I'll often go out there to pray in the evening at sunset - just to go and pray. You would almost - would never go down there and find it just completely abandoned. There's almost always somebody down there visiting or praying or families down there having picnics - beautiful, big, old mesquite trees down there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sounds beautiful - tell me about this letter that you received. When did you get it? And what does it say?

SNIPES: Well, they sent it to the diocesan lawyer. Of course, this is all church property. So the legal business goes through the bishop's lawyer. And the bishop and the lawyer made the decision to refuse the right of entry. The first letter was - they wanted to come in and survey for the wall. And then the second thing is that they want to take the land for the wall.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And your - and I understand the church is in the midst of a legal battle with the federal government over the land that La Lomita sits on.

SNIPES: That would be it. They'll claim eminent domain. I went to one case at the federal court with another - with the oratory priest. The lawyer invited me just to get the lay of the land. Well, the judge was just almost adamant that he - there was no reason for you to deny right for surveys on your land. A surveyor's not going to disturb anything. So in that case, the judge insisted that they work out some kind of a compromise with the surveyors, like when you can come and how soon you have to tell us you're going to come and how long you can stay and all that. So what they tell us - the same thing might happen with us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You mentioned eminent domain. And that is, of course, the premise that the government has the right to expropriate private property as long as it compensates the owner.

SNIPES: Right. That would - they would build the wall on our land. There's a levee just kind of north of the chapel. And it would - the wall would go on the levee. And then they would have like a - kind of a - I call it a militarized zone. That's not what they call it - like a 150-foot-wide road that they would use for their vehicles to go up and down. And if they do that, that caliche road would probably go right up to the chapel.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A caliche road is a rock road. What would happen to the chapel if the land it sits on gets taken? Would it be moved?

SNIPES: No. No, I don't think we'd ever think about moving it. It would be kind of a desecrated sacred place. We could probably find - they - whenever we ask them questions about it - in fact, we had a meeting with Border Patrol and Corps of Engineers about - oh, it maybe was almost a year ago in the city hall. And they're quick to reassure us, don't worry. You'll still have access. Don't worry. It'll all work out.

We had a lot of questions. We go down there with a Palm Sunday procession, maybe 1,500, 2,000 people. How's that going to work out? And then we stay till sunset. We hear confessions and have a big parish picnic. And I even asked them, well, what about - now, are you going to try to interrogate all those people when we leave? You look at me and say, well, that old guy's got white hair and blue eyes. We'll let him go. But then all these young guys who've got black hair and black eyes and dark skin, maybe we better check them out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are you worried that if this wall gets built - and even if it doesn't damage the chapel itself - that it will discourage worshippers, many of whom are Hispanic, from coming?

SNIPES: Yes. It'll discourage worshippers for sure. And it'll also - even for those of us who will go anyway, it'll be like the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. We'll go and cry there. But when we do go, the atmosphere will be altered. The spell will be broken. I don't know how to say it. It won't be the same at all.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What would you like to see happen, Father?

SNIPES: What I would love to see happen is that, as one of the other oblates said - Father Mike Lemesh (ph) said, let's pray that the president's heart will be open to the graces flowing from these sacred places. We can pray for that. (Speaking Spanish) and the spirit moves. And he doesn't quit moving when things are getting crazy. That's the ideal. In fact, they figure - if we are the smartest and the richest and the most powerful and the most creative - and even sometimes, they say that we're the most compassionate in the world - well, couldn't we come up with something better than building a wall on that beautiful river?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Father Roy Snipes on the line from Mission, Texas. Thank you so much.

SNIPES: Thank you, Lulu. God bless you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.