Faithful to the Call: “Welcoming the Stranger in Our Midst”

Scott Wright, Director CCAO
November 4, 2013

On a recent trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, I stayed at the Columban Mission Center in El Paso, Texas, and met with the pastoral team there. One of members of the team, Luis Enrique Jacquez, visits migrant children who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border unaccompanied and ended up in detention. Recently, Luis came to Washington D.C. and met with CCAO staff and interns. He had been invited to speak to Catholic University of America (CUA) students who were interested in hearing about the Columban Border Immersion trip that CUA students took last May. More than 300 people attended to hear Luis’s moving story of his work with immigrants on the border, and the plight of migrant children in detention. This is what Luis said:

“I have worked with unaccompanied minors for five years. The shelter I work at predominately receives children under the age of twelve. I currently live with the Columban Fathers at the Columban Mission Center in El Paso, Texas. Working with this population has challenged me to discern about where God is calling me. The Columbans have supported me in returning to school for a social work degree and to continue working at the detention center. So many young people come with their own story of their journey filled with danger. Some had been assaulted, robbed, severely injured, or saw horrific things that the mention of this brings terror to their young faces.

“The unfortunate reality is that many will eventually be deported back to their country. But for some, the time in detention is short lived, and thankfully, they are quickly reunited with their family in the U.S. Once reunited the real untold story begins, since no statistics exist of how many minors eventually are granted permanent residency. Minors must attend public school and report to immigration court. Once turning eighteen, they may be told that their temporary stay has expired and that they must be deported. Minors may even be exploited within the US. Some will feel the effects of culture shock or feel aggression towards parents whom they see as strangers. One of many untold realities that engulfs the immigration issue.

“Minors continue and will continue to arrive in this country. Many come with a dream that has nothing to do with the American Dream. It is the dream to one day to be with their mother.”

The Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach is deeply involved in the current debate around comprehensive immigration reform. We continue to advocate with other religious communities in the spirit of the Scripture-based invitation “to welcome the stranger in our midst.” Columbans on the U.S. – Mexico border, in immigrant parishes in Los Angeles, and wherever there are immigrants and families pursuing their dream of a life of dignity and hope for their children, know that this ministry is at the heart of what it means to be faithful to the Gospel call to mission.

To see the world anew, from the eyes of these immigrant men, women and children, is to hear the call to mission and solidarity. The Columban Border Immersion program and the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach are working together to educate, advocate, and invite others to participate in mission by standing in solidarity with our immigrant sisters and brothers. The dignity and courage of immigrants, and the compassion and solidarity of Columbans everywhere who accompany them in their struggle for life and justice, help change despair to hope and offer a sign of the “beloved community” to which the Gospel calls us.