The Diocese of El Paso, Texas announced Monday that a cross-border Mass will take place during Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico in February. The Holy Father’s schedule for the trip, released Sunday by the Vatican, includes a Feb. 17 Mass in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, at Benito Juarez Stadium near the border. Bishop Mark J. Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso said in a statement that he and other area bishops are working to have lay faithful present at a Mass that includes both sides of the border. The dioceses of both El Paso, Texas and Las Cruces, NM are across the Rio Grande river from Juarez.    “I am presently in conversation with our local civic leaders about celebrating Mass with Pope Francis at the border...which will include the faithful on both sides of the border,” he said. The Mass at the Mexico-U.S. border is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from both countries and would be a significant milestone in Pope Francis’ February trip. The Benito Juarez Stadium has a capacity of 220,000, and tickets for the event are expected to be made available sometime in the next week. While the Diocese of El Paso is not organizing a pilgrimage to Mexico for the Pope’s visit, the faithful are being encouraged to check with their local parishes about organized trips to the event. Bishop Seitz said he is “thrilled” that the Pope is making a stop at the border region, and that he has “many hopes” for the Holy Father’s visit.

“In spite of the borders and boundaries that exist, we see ourselves as one great Catholic community, and so we are immensely grateful and honored that our Universal Pastor, Pope Francis, has chosen to come to our area,” he said.

“Pope Francis’ visit will undoubtedly call attention to many realities that are lived on both sides of the U.S. — Mexico border, particularly the plight of so many migrants and refugees fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries, in search of better lives for themselves and their children.” Bishop Seitz also expressed his “great excitement” for the Mexican people upon the announcement of the Pope’s trip. As a country with an 80 percent Catholic population, Mexicans are known for their “special love and affection for our popes,“ the bishop said, which he expects will be as strong as ever with the first Latin American pope.   Other highlights of the Pope’s Feb. 12-18 trip to the country include the veneration of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mass with the indigenous community of Chiapas, and a visit to a prison in Ciudad Juarez. Besides the Mass, Bishop Seitz said he is also calling on all parishes in his dioceses to take up special collections in order to financially support the Diocese of Juarez’s expenses in hosting Pope Francis.