Columban Mission Exposure Trip to the US/Mexico Border (4)

7th April 2015 - by James Trewby

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A small group of Columban contacts in Britain is spending Holy Week 2015 on a Columban Mission Exposure Visit to Texas and Mexico, exploring issues around migration.

Today’s blog is written by Joseph Cooper, a member of St. Wilfrid’s Faith & Justice Group in Preston, Lancashire, UK.

Day 7

A new day dawned, bringing with it decidedly chilly and cloudy weather that was perfect for a morning’s climb up Mount Christo Rey, a local hill where people go to reflect upon the 14 Stations of the Cross.

Today we joined dozens of local Easter pilgrims making their way up to the top where a statue of Christ the King stands. Our purpose was to meditate upon key moments in Jesus’ life and passion and draw parallels between the struggles in His life and those of migrant peoples both here in the USA and around the world.

As we made the ascent, the wind became stronger and colder. One of our group members had come without a jumper or jacket. In a moment of selfless kindness a woman walking up behind us gave him her own coat and refused to take it back when offered. Her generosity moved me; I started to think back on all the moments of generosity we had encountered throughout our stay and how each one, large or small, was working to bring God’s love into the lives of migrant peoples here.

Our God who, incarnated in the personhood of Jesus the Christ, entered into our world as a migrant. His parents fled for safety to Egypt, becoming strangers in a strange land with a culture and language not their own. Mother, father and baby, taking with them only what they could carry and walking across desert land to reach a place of uncertainty and refuge with only hope and trust in God to sustain them.

Who knows what they encountered when they arrived there? Perhaps they found refuge with a Jewish diaspora community, perhaps not. Maybe St. Joseph struggled to find work and had to do whatever low-paid job he could find? And what sort of accommodation did they stay in? Probably nothing fancy and in the lowest income end of the neighborhood. The parallels go on.

Looking down from the summit I saw the black line of the fence dividing El Paso from Cuidad Jaurez and a man on horseback keeping patrol. Looking up at Jesus’ statue, overlooking the area, I felt great sadness. I saw this human divide through His eyes and realised its falsity and folly. Here are two communities with shared history and heritage separated by a wire fence. Here the USA plow billions of dollars into an enforcement, detention and legal system designed to deter people from crossing; condemning many people seeking refuge and the chance to live their lives free from fear to an unwelcoming and uncertain future. But here also, on both sides of the border, God’s love and generosity is at work through individuals, churches, charities and non-profits, inspiring hope in the darkest of circumstances.

Easter Sunday – Day 8

Today’s blog is by James Trewby, the Columban Justice and Peace Education Worker.

Jesus is risen!

But the honest truth is that some of us didn’t rise til noon today – our first day off. It was a very relaxed day of sleeping, reading, cooking a tradition British style roast dinner (may have been more relaxing for those of us that didn’t cook), introducing Fr Bob to the wonderful comedy ‘Fr Ted’ and then ending the day with a reflection using the ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ in the evening.

This gave me a chance to think back over some of the amazing experiences we’ve had over the last days: meeting undocumented workers, interviewing border patrol, visiting an immigration court, seeing different ways the church is helping challenge and alleviate the problems caused by the migration system and poverty, mediating in the desert, climbing mountains, celebrating Easter with Mexican communities and so much more.

Reflecting on it all, a number of themes emerge:
– Welcome and hospitality
From Fr Bob at the Columban Mission Center to parishes and communities on both sides of the border, everyone has shown us how to ‘welcome the stranger’ with love.
– The desire to enter the USA
There are both push and pull factors: fleeing poverty and violence (for example, in El Salvador), wanting to be reunited with family or looking for the (sometimes disappointing) ‘American Dream’.
– The ‘brokenness’ of the US immigration system
In so many ways it just doesn’t work, with so many barriers to both ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ ways in, even though the USA clearly requires and benefits from migration. I found the ways families are split up particularly sad.
– The Church in action
We’ve met so many inspiring people who are committed to helping migrants, ending poverty, challenging systems and so on. I have no doubt God is working through these people!

Day 9

Today we woke at a reasonable time for breakfast and to make exciting preparations for a picnic. After a brief visit from Fr Kevin, we headed off in the van to White Sands National Park, New Mexico. On the way, Bob took us to the Women’s Intercultural Center, where we met an amazing woman called Mary. She showed us around the centre, explaining all the wonderful work done there. One again, the charity of the people was evident everywhere you looked. Everything in the centre was either donated, recycled or repurposed. The building itself was built by sustainable building techniques, using tires, straw and mud. It helps to keep the building cool in the hotter months and gives the building it’s distinctive shape. It is also makes a very definite statement about the centre’s commitment to sustainable living.

When we reached White Sands, we were treated to BBQ’d steak (a little better than my usual picnics) and the opportunity to sand sledge. Much fun and food was had by all, with many trecks up and down the dunes in order to find the best and fastest route. After the long drive back we chose to relax and spend an evening together watching a film. Until the film got too scary for some and they had to retire to bed! Only one full day left and yet again, I have no idea what it holds in store, but I can’t wait…