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PHARR, RGV – On July 26, Pope Francis sent a video message to the St. Anne Catholic Church in Peñitas for World Youth Day.

World Youth Day (WYD) is a week-long event involving the Pope that occurs every three years in a different country. WYD universally brings young people of the church together and was hosted this year in Krakow, Poland.

Reverend Michael Montoya of St. Anne Catholic Church said his parish is beyond happy because things like this don’t happen to a place like Peñitas. When Montoya’s friends found out the Pope would be sending a message, they told him to host it in a bigger city such as McAllen, but Montoya said that defeats the purpose.

“The idea of doing this in Peñitas is precisely to strengthen that message to the church – that the mercy of God knows no borders, knows no limits – that it even reaches the remotest parts of the world,” Montoya said. “The church promotes that and perpends that and also for our people to feel that we don’t have to be in the central power to be recognized by the church.”

According to the 2013 U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Peñitas was at 4,552. Montoya said there is a lot of poverty and some areas don’t have sewage or water lines. Because Peñitas is close to the border, there are a lot of personnel patrolling the city.

“There is a big presence of what we call a military presence in the area,” Montoya said. “We have the sheriff, we have the local police, we have the state trooper, we have the border patrols [and] we have the national guard. So it’s a constant reminder for the people that something is not right.”

Montoya said most of the imaging they receive from the outside is always negative as it pertains to the border. However, with the message from the Pope, it can possibly reconstruct the ideas of the city of Peñitas.

“By doing this, we are actually proclaiming that within the church, church knows no borders because the mercy of God knows no limits,” Montoya said. “It’s a re-imaging of who we are and saying this is who we are. We are not defined by the border, we are defined by our culture and by our faith.”

Editor’s Note: The first two photos in the slideshow accompanying this story were taken by the Diocese of Brownsville. The remainder were taken by Rio Grande Guardian reporter Steve Taylor.