By Meg Miller
I grew up my whole life in the Church; if I had to estimate, I’d say I went to church about 75% of the Sundays of my childhood and young adult life. I have a lot of memories of these days, including a lot of donuts after mass, and an Easter Egg Hunt every year. I have no memory of any mention of immigration during my childhood, ever. The Catholic communities I grew up in were active, and parishioners were connected. My church did a wonderful job of teaching me how loved by God I am, and of assuring me of my conviction that God calls us to charity. My church failed to educate me of the truth that above all, Christianity calls us to pursue Christ-like justice.
My formative years in a predominantly white suburban parish in San Diego were during the Obama Administration. So, before we created concentration camps at the border but while we were deporting people and separating families. It didn’t seem to matter that my parish was a mere forty-five-minute drive from the US/Mexico border. Proximity, or lack thereof, does not determine our call to seek justice for migrant families, to this we are all called. But being so close to the border exasperates the incredulity of a church forming young adult Catholics and so blatantly ignoring the dehumanization happening at the border.
I write these things about my home parish as a critique in love, and because I am sure my experience with white Catholicism is not unique. I not only think we can do better, I think we must do better. We are called to do better. For me, the national pilgrimage to El Paso represents an opportunity to do better, and to act and learn in a way that I don’t believe the Catholic Church does often enough. Because above all, as Catholics, we are called to pursue justice.
I learned about the national pilgrimage to the border for a weekend teach-in and action within my first few hours of working at CSPL. Immediately upon hearing about it I knew I wanted to go. Much of why I wanted to spend this year at CSPL is due to our work with immigrant leaders for immigration justice. Partaking in a national pilgrimage to the border in El Paso to learn and take action against the atrocities committed by the federal government originally felt easy to me—of course I would be going. As I learned and considered more about this pilgrimage, I quickly recognized the privilege associated with my unwavering desire and ability to embark on it. My conversations with people who cannot so easily decide to take this journey led me to two realizations. First, it made more tangible the restrictions and fears that undocumented people, migrants, and children of immigrants face. Second, it strengthened my conviction that I must use my various intersecting privileges, such as those that result from being white and a citizen, in order to act against the dehumanizing policies of ICE.
These realizations led me to conversations with my fellow Amate Fellows, many of whom committed as eagerly as I did, and others who took more time to discern their decision. My conversations with each of them were inspiring and affirming, and revolved around themes of solidarity, urgency, justice, personal connections, and responsibility. Being engaged in a year of service program, we live a stable but very simple lifestyle with a small monthly stipend. Yet, the money, the days off work, the time on the bus: all are inconsequential when compared to the gravity of the situation at the border. When I asked my housemates what convinced them to embark on this pilgrimage, their answers were similar. They recognize the urgency of the moment and share the conviction that we must act now. They expressed that they can’t bear the thought of looking back on their young lives, on the horrific reality that exists at our southern border, and knowing that they did not act. Collectively, we want to look back and know that we were part of this movement, that we saw an injustice and worked to change it, that we dared to move closer to standing in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who are denied their humanity daily as a result of the actions of the federal government.
I am thankful for the opportunity to experience this journey with other Amate Fellows. Our program is rooted in social justice and leadership development, and the El Paso pilgrimage and teach-in is a clear juxtaposition of both. In their own words, these are the reasons other Amate Fellows have chosen to embark on this pilgrimage:
Corinne Woodruff, Archdiocese Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity—I wanted to join CSPL’s Pilgrimage to El Paso because in our cultural moment, we need to be discovering how we are called to be in a deeper sense of solidarity with our sisters and brothers. The Pilgrimage is a place for me to learn more, be present, and really connect my faith to what drives me to action. Justice is what love looks like in public, and we are all called to grow in our sense of justice and love for those around us
Tia, Saint Ita Parish and Saint Thomas of Canterbury School—It pains me to remember that it was a year ago when common media shed light on family separations at the southern border and reflect on how little progress has been made to welcome and respect Latinx immigrants in the United States. Immigration justice has become even more personal to me as I strive to celebrate the differences of the students and adults I encounter in my full-time volunteer roles at an incredibly diverse elementary school and parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago. I’m looking forward to learning and growing in El Paso, but mostly I’m hoping the weekend may serve as a catalyst for sustainable action against systemic sins that undermine God-given human dignity.
Katelyn Schieve, Girls in the Game—I know that I am descended from immigrants who were able to greatly improve their family’s lives in the United States. Seeing the cruel stories of the criminalization and demonetization of immigration is heartbreaking. I want to learn more and personally connect to the issue today by meeting people who are directly trying to improve the situation.
Rose Rucoba, Brother David Darst Center—I want to be a part of this unfortunate phenomenon that’s happening at the border right now. And as someone who identifies as Latinx, I feel an extra layer of responsibility to stand with and for these immigrants and take action instead of just reading or posting about it. I want to be able to tell future generations that I didn’t just stand by and read about this crisis in the news—I acted and stood up for what I believe in.
If you are inspired to get involved as well, I encourage you to take the following steps:
Join us at our pilgrimage send-off mass on Wednesday, October 9 at 5:15pm at Holy Name Cathedral.
Join us in Chicago for a national action that will correspond with our border action on Saturday, October 12.