Faith that overcomes borders

For over 200 years, Mexicans and Guatemalans illegally cross the border dividing their countries, driven by their faith

Believer during Ash Wednesday in Mexico City – Photo: Tomas Bravo/REUTERS
English 22/02/2018 16:06 Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas María de Jesús Peters Actualizada 16:16

Thousands of faithful cross the Suchiate River each year as part of a tradition that doesn't recognize borders, a tradition that began over 200 years ago, back when Chiapas was part of Guatemala.

Mayan descendants and Catholics in Mexico travel each Lent to Tecún Umán, in Guatemala, to pay their respects at the Church of the Lord of the Three Falls.

Men, women, senior citizens, and children are guided by their faith to keep the promise of returning, year after year, to worship Jesus Christ, grateful for the graces bestowed on them.

The Church of the Lord of the Three Falls receives dozens of pilgrims at the start of Lent, and the waters of the natural border between Mexico and Guatemala ripple with the movement of makeshift rafts made out of rubber wheels, with the the coming and going of families who prefer to cross on foot, given that at this time of the year the Suchiate gets low enough for them to do so.

(Pilgrims crossing the Suchiate River – Photo: María de Jesús Peters/EL UNIVERSAL)

Yet religion and faith aren't the only factors at play. Merchants set shop on the river edge, offering anything from refreshments and food, to shoes, religious images, and even household items.

After worshiping the Lord of the Three Falls, many Guatemalans also cross over to Mexican territory to go shopping, seeing that their currency, the quetzal, fares better rates than the Mexican peso.

Matilde Espinoza Toledo, Mayor of Suchiate, in Chiapas, says that the visit of thousands of Guatemalans is an important contribution to the economy of the town, from which all benefit: hotels, restaurants, convenience stores, and more.

Ms. Espinoza says this is a festivity without borders since the faithful cross from both sides of the river without papers, that is illegally. But it's a tradition in which legality matters little and all are brothers in the faith, welcomed by both sides with open arms.