Reflections on the El Paso Pilgrimage

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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:

  1. Join us on our pilgrimage.

  2. Join CSPL’s immigration committee or become a member of CSPL today.

  3. Join us at our pilgrimage send-off mass on Wednesday, October 9 at 5:15pm at Holy Name Cathedral.

  4. Join us in Chicago for a national action that will correspond with our border action on Saturday, October 12.

  5. Donate today and help us reach our goal of sending 100 people to El Paso!

The Power is Yours: An Exhortation from an Undocumented Medical Student

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By Sumbul Siddiqui

My parents immigrated to the United States when I was 4 years old, hoping to give their children a better life. I was raised in Georgia with my three younger siblings, two of whom were born here. Georgia has a policy called 287(g), in which some counties are proud to work together with ICE agents to detain immigrants.

My first encounter with ICE officers was probably when I was 14 years old, just about to enter the 9thgrade. I remember this moment very well, because the night before I had watched this scary movie called Saw. So, I was terrified that someone was going to kidnap me. I checked my closet and slept with the lights on that night. No one came for me, but my mom was taken. Two ICE officers entered our home that morning. I only heard bits and pieces because my mom had closed my bedroom door and told me to go back to sleep. Eavesdropping, I heard them tell my mom to go with them, and she would return back to her family soon. That took 3 months. She was taken to the Atlanta Detention Center, and then transferred to an Alabama detention center.

I don’t remember much of what happened during that time, but I do remember visiting my mom in the Atlanta Detention Center. We were only allowed to see her for a brief moment. She was wearing an orange jumpsuit – crying. Her handcuffs were taken off so she could talk to us through the glass window. I told her that everything was going to be okay even though I had no idea what was going on – or really, a clue about our immigration system. When my mom returned, I started high school, and I didn’t think much about immigration again.

Fast forward to my sophomore year in college. They come for my dad. Within just a few months, they come for my brother. My dad was gone for 2 years, and my brother was gone for 7 months. They were both in two different detention centers. Sometimes, I had to figure out who to visit – whether I would drive an hour up from Atlanta to see my father or 3 hours down to see my brother.

My brother was held at Stewart Detention Center, a very old facility in the middle of nowhere. We saw each other through a glass window and spoke to each other through a phone – except the phones didn’t work so we spoke as loud as we could to hear each other. Once, he told me he wanted to self-deportand that I didn’t truly comprehend that conditions he was living in. All I knew was that if he self-deported, then he would have a 10-year ban on him before he could apply to re-enter the United States. So, I told him to just be strong and patient. There has been a report released on the conditions of Stewart Detention Center – four people have already died there. I think to myself – that could’ve been my brother.

2 years and 7 months – I had no father, and I missed my brother.

2 years and 7 months – I figured how to become that kind of father figure for my family – for my youngest brother and sister.

2 years and 7 months – I took care of a broken-hearted mom.

2 years and 7 months – I will never get back.

In October of 2017, I had the opportunity to go to Washington, DC to advocate. I was super nervous meeting my representatives, but they are just human beings. I’ve learned that they take notice of how many calls they receive and pay attention to common themes. But most importantly, I’ve learned that it’s not them that have the power; it’s the people – it’s us.–

Hold your representatives accountable because the laws they make impact our friends, our community – our future patients. Do they represent your values? If they do – thank them.

For those that don’t,

Ask – Have you forgotten your history?  – When the Native Americans took your ancestors in? When they were looking for a better life?

Ask – Have you forgotten that American foreign policy has caused a lot of the home countries of refugees and asylum seekers to become unstable?  They are coming to our borders because of the unsafe conditions of their own homes.

Ask – When did it become okay for families to cross dangerous terrain to save their children – only for their children to be separated and then die at American detention centers?

Ask – Why are our tax dollars being used to fund for-profit detention centers instead of community centers where can we heal and treat our asylum-seekers and migrants for the dangerous journey they have undergone?

Tell them: We will hold you accountable. We will remember you when election day comes. We will not be fooled.

Some politicians think that we just want families to be reunited. But that is not what we want. Families should be together, but not indefinitely in a detention center where such inhumane conditions exist.

This year, the M1s had to read the book “Dear America,” and some people were left feeling helpless at the immigration situation. But don’t lose hope. If you are a citizen, you have more privilege than any of us to be a voice for those who have none. If you asked me years ago, I would never have thought to be surrounded by people who care about immigration and justice when I used to be so alone. As more people become educated and aware, politicianstake notice. The new Atlanta mayor has stopped accepting any more detainees at the Atlanta Detention Center and is working on transforming it to a community center. That is the power of the people.

So, hold your representatives accountable. I ask again – do they reflect you?

Sumbul Siddiqui is a student in the MD-MPH at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. She is a DACA recipient who recently completed her public health studies and has entered the medical school with the class of 2023. She presented these remarks at a Call to Action event sponsored by the Latino Medical Student Association of the Stritch School of Medicine on September 3, 2019.

Reprinted with permission ofReflectiveMedEd”

St. Teresa’s Peace and Social Justice Committee in Action: Immigration Rally

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A Reflection by Grace Rucker 

Leaving the immigration rally this afternoon, I am impassioned and energized to stand up for my beliefs, to take action for justice, and to make advocacy part of my identity. With thousands present in Daley Plaza, the rally today opened with a prayer led in the  Jewish tradition.  We heard song, poetry, and stories reflecting on the experience of seeking asylum. As a community, we stood together, truly feeling united in this belief that something must change - united in this horror we feel at the humanitarian crisis we are witnessing at our borders and within our own city as people are criminalized, deported, and detained. As thousands united for a cause, we marched from Daley Plaza to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, where this very weekend immigrants and asylum seekers will be detained as they are removed from their families by ICE raids. I’m proud of our St Teresa’s community for being present today - for taking action, for standing up for our beliefs, and for joining our larger community to work for justice.  

Martin Luther King, Jr., The Magi and Divine Civil Disobedience

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A Reflection by Michael N. Okinczyc-Cruz

On the recent Feast of the Epiphany, I was listening to the Scripture reading during Mass from Matthew 2:1-12 and while sitting in the pew that cold Sunday evening with many things on my mind, something about that passage struck me for the first time. As the son of a religiously devoted Mexican mother whose sole mission on Sunday mornings was to have her three boys seated in the pew firmly by her side, I have heard the words from this passage many, many times before in my life. 

Perhaps it was because for weeks we have been shocked and outraged by news about innocent children and their parents being separated at the border or grieving for Jakelin Caal, age 7, and Felipe Gomez-Alonzo, age 8, who died in the custody of U.S. Border Patrol over the last several weeks. But when I heard those words it struck me that in order to fully honor the divinity of the infant Jesus, the Magi themselves engaged in an act of divine civil disobedience.

By refusing to go along with King Herod’s sly and duplicitous request to know where the young child was located, the three wise men effectively saved the life of Jesus and risked their own. Instead of traveling back to their homelands along a path that would have led them into the grasp of Herod, where they would willingly or unwillingly reveal the location of Jesus, they decided to take a different route home. This courageous and bold decision to dissent ultimately left King Herod empty-handed, and Mary and Joseph time to hastily navigate their long and arduous journey to Egypt with their newborn child.

The story of the Epiphany and the courage of the Magi convey a certain theological truth. We are each called by God to be co-creators in the building of the Reign of God here on Earth and at times this responsibility requires dissent and nonviolent civil disobedience. Through His life and ministry, Jesus called each and every person who would listen to embrace this truth as He still does. What the Magi and Jesus Himself have shown us is that, at times, our fidelity to God requires us to be willing to engage in nonviolent acts that resist and denounce authoritative and oppressive powers.

On this day, we celebrate the life of another whose deep devotion to God and humanity inspired him to lead many courageous acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. Unlike the Magi, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not approached by angels in the night, but, in his own words, he was profoundly moved by the voice of God through a religious experience that affirmed to him that his life’s work meant standing with the most marginalized in society. 

It happened on an evening in late January of 1956. King had already been reluctantly thrust into the center of the growing Montgomery Bus Boycott alongside Rosa Parks and others. Just weeks before this night, a strategically planned act of civil disobedience was courageously executed by Rosa Parks. This act, and the chain of events that followed, set into motion a yearlong campaign that would dramatically alter our nation’s history.  

On this particular evening, an exhausted King had just laid his head down in bed next to his wife, Coretta who was already asleep, when his phone rang. A chilling and furious voice on the other line said: “Listen, n*****, we’ve taken all we want from you; before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.” Anxious and unable to sleep, King went to his kitchen where he made a cup of coffee. A wave of fear, doubt and worry that had been rising for weeks finally crashed over his shoulders as he sat at his kitchen table that evening. Feeling utterly powerless at that moment, King turned to God. In his own words from his work, Stride Toward Freedom

“I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory: ‘Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right. I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now, I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage. Now, I am afraid. […] I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

At that moment, King heard a quiet inner voice say to him: “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you. Even until the end of the world.”

Three evenings later King’s house was bombed while his wife and infant daughter were at home. King’s religious experience would give him the inner fortitude and courage to remain committed to his calling and the philosophy of active nonviolent resistance.

During his own lifetime, King’s willingness to engage in civil disobedience to unjust laws in obedience to the higher will of God carried its own consequences that were not too far removed from the consequences that Jesus faced for His actions under Roman rule. During the Civil Rights Movement, the many women, men and youth who were inspired to sit, stand, march, sing and pray in places that were barred for African-Americans under the system of Jim Crow did so fully knowing that their actions directly challenged many written and unwritten laws that for generations were punishable by beatings, shootings, bombings and lynching’s that were ruthlessly carried out by white mobs and the KKK.  

King understood that walls and barriers, both visible and invisible, give rise to the corrosive spiritual, psychological and physical forces that engender fear, hatred and violence. The enduring legacy of slavery, white supremacy and Jim Crow laws were just several of the many walls and barriers that King sought to break down through collective acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.

If King could comment on the affairs of today, I imagine that he would grieve for the soul of our nation and speak with great urgency of the moral crisis before us at this moment. He would observe and name with searing truths the connection between President Trump’s demand for a border wall and a long history of slavery, genocide, colonization, and white supremacy that is both our past and present reality.

He would also relentlessly point towards the many walls of our nation’s past and present. The walls that were built to enclose Native Americans, the walls that were built at the Japanese internment camps in the U.S. during WWII, the walls that were built during the Jim Crow era, and the walls that we’ve built to cage children in today along our borders and to imprison millions of Latinos, African Americans and people with mental health conditions in cities across our country.

At this very moment, as thousands of children and families flee from the many Herods in our world today in search of hope and safety, we must ask ourselves, “If I were there that night among the Magi, as the angels visited carrying a message from God, would I carry out the task of disobeying King Herod to save the life of this divine child even if it may mean my imprisonment or death?”

As I meditate on this question myself, I can hear Rev. Dr. King’s booming prophetic voice bringing the fierce urging of God to bear on us all by saying, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Do we have the courage to do what is right and necessary at this moment in time in obedience to the will of God, even if it requires disobedience to the will of our President and our nation’s laws? 

By Michael Okinczyc-Cruz