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BY TIM SEVERYN | May 17, 2018 | EN ESPAÑOL

At six and a half years old, Roberto* enrolled in kindergarten, a year behind his peers. Over the last 8 months, when he ought to have been learning to read and playing on the playground, he had instead been on the run with his papa, mama, and four year old sister, Marian—from the gangs in his home nation of El Salvador, from the human traffickers on the Guatemala-Mexico border, from the paid contractors on the Mexico-U.S. border looking to capture him and return him to the violence he had fled from months prior. He, like so many in similar situations, has experienced trauma.

[Sarnil Prasad via Flickr]

His first day in Cincinnati, Ohio, he spelled mama ven, mama come, on the refrigerator in magnets. Stretching his spelling skills across time and space, begging for safety and security for his family. But it would be more than four weeks before ICE would release her and 4-year-old Marian to our care. Mama with an ankle monitor and Marian barely recovered from the chicken pox she caught while incarcerated in the euphemistically named “South Texas Family Residential Center,” a prison in all but name, where they had to prove “credible fear” before a hostile ICE officer. After a night spent in the airport, they finally arrive—a tearful reunion—holy.  

On Good Friday, the many faces of Christ crucified today covered the cross during veneration at Bellarmine Chapel in Cincinnati. 

So here we are in 2018: Our government actively separating families like theirs for the sole purpose of discouraging other immigrants from coming, from fleeing violence in search of a better life. 

Here we are: okay with locking up a 4-year-old child and her mother in an isolation ward, a shared solitary confinement; okay with a child sleeping on a tax-payer funded slab of a cot in a dark room without electricity.

Okay with so many families fleeing death threats for the better part of a year, only to be locked up by the designated “safe” country like they had committed a crime rather than been the victims of one.  

We, the American people, have decided we are okay with this—so long as we’re secure.

But we, the Catholic Church, have decided we’re not okay with this.

In 2015, Pope Francis stood before some of the most powerful people in the world, the U.S. Congress, and declared: “Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”  

Bellarmine parishioners and members of the local immigrant community from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador participate in a Share the Journey potluck meal.

Last fall, Pope Francis invited all Catholic congregations across the world to join him in doing precisely this, launching a two-year campaign with Caritas called Share the Journey. In partnership with the Jesuits, the Ignatian Solidarity Network has launched a complementary effort known as the Campaign for Hospitality, with roots going back to an intercontinental Jesuit social ministry conference in the Dominican Republic last year. Among the attendees at that conference was Fr. Dan Hartnett, S.J., a longtime missionary in Peru and the current pastor of Bellarmine Chapel on the campus of Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.  

He returned from the conference on fire, quickly convening a group of parishioners and staff, including this author, a licensed social worker—around a simple question—What can we do? He wondered how we might begin to change the narrative around immigrants in our nation, or at least our community, to move from a story of criminalization to one of humanization.  

At Bellarmine’s Share the Journey retreat for parishioners, Xavier University Theology faculty, Dr. Marcus Mescher, provides Biblical grounding for welcoming the stranger.

As one parishioner remarked, “We can’t continue to treat trauma survivors like criminals, to treat preschoolers like enemies of the state. If we throw people away, label them disposable, the excluded of the earth, we spit in the face of God. Jesus reached out to the most vulnerable, and said, I love you—let us eat together, let us have table fellowship.” Bellarmine’s table has grown, and we’ve gotten an inkling of the table size Jesus imagined, that God crafted to feed us all.

A member of Bellarmine’s Immigration Team welcomes attendees to a screening of the documentary Human Flow.

 

From that initial gathering, we have rapidly expanded encounters between our primarily white, university-bound, middle and upper-middle class parish with our immigrant neighbors. We have formed a parish Immigration Team that meets on a monthly basis and has sponsored a number of events in the realms of 1) Hospitality/Relationship Building; 2) Education; and 3) Advocacy. We’ve held a story-sharing event with 250 in attendance, listening to immigrant women and Dreamers share their trauma and triumphs. We’ve accompanied five women and their families as they have launched a catering business—with their first event our Feast of St. Ignatius Picnic for over 200 parishioners with fresh tamales, empanadas, and papusas—and much fellowship. We held a Share the Journey retreat with 100 parish leaders present. We’ve helped launch a new nonprofit in the city, Casa de Paz/House of Peace for Latina survivors of domestic violence. And we’ve recently helped the Ignatian Solidarity Network establish an Ohio-wide coalition of Jesuit works lobbying Senator Portman on the Dream Act.  

But perhaps our deepest encounter, the one where we’ve truly shared the journey, expressing hospitality in the most radical sense of the word, of actually identifying with the suffering and becoming vulnerable ourselves in the process, has been with Roberto, Marian, Ella, and Luis, the family of four from El Salvador. We met them through the Kino Border Initiative, a Jesuit project in Nogales, AZ. KBI had contacted Bellarmine some months earlier with a simple request: We’ve got a family coming from El Salvador, could your parish take them in?  

Father Dan wanted to do this, but he knew he couldn’t do it alone—his time in Peru meant he had a command of the language, but that wouldn’t be enough to carry a family from suffering to safety. Could our community move beyond the protected pavers and well-manicured lawns of Xavier University, beyond our own class privilege and white skin, towards true encounter? An informal survey of the parish, 750 households in total, revealed a smattering of Spanish-speakers, no more than 10 families. Was that enough? Could we make this work? Father Dan stood before the parish one Sunday, and directly said: “Bellarmine, we’ve been asked, can we respond? We’ve been called, how will we answer?” He put the question before each of us—and the response was tremendous, sacred, blessed.

Having gone through the Spiritual Exercises as a community, we were primed for discernment and ready for real encounter. We wanted to be a field hospital like Pope Francis urges, a church abounding in mercy and love. Within weeks, we received an outpouring of generosity. Solidly ¼ of the parish actively relayed a desire to be involved, to support financially, assist with medical or legal counsel, educate, provide meals, and more. When a bilingual family stepped up to host in their own home, we knew we were moving with God. In Fr. Dan’s five years with the parish, it was the greatest single activation he’d seen. And so we said yes: yes to God’s call, and yes to accompanying our migrant neighbors through trauma to health.

It has been a lot of work to support this family’s transition, and we’re still early in the process (pray for us!), but we are as far as we are because we made a conscious effort to work together in a move from the culture of indifference towards the culture of encounter, towards radical hospitality. When we strive to make ourselves vulnerable, God abides. When we strive to become painfully aware, and our fortresses begin to break down, we become something better than we were before conversion. When we hear our neighbors’ heartbeats’ distress in our own chests, and realize the blood they spill is our own blood, the abuse they endure is, in some part, our own—we can no longer turn a blind eye to their suffering. When this happens, we know in our depths that the Body of Christ is real, and everything is connected in God, shining like the sun. When this happens, we know the tears of a child are the tears of our own children, crying out mama ven, mama come—the call of God. And we do our best to respond, to surround them with the same love we do our own. I am glad our church is one of thousands across the nation trying to live out this call to love, striving to Share the Journey.  

*Names have been changed for privacy.

El Deportado highlights the work of the Kino Border Initiative on the U.S.-Mexico border in bringing hope to those who migrate as well as those who experience deportation from the U.S.

A video reflection on the work of the Kino Border Initiative created by a student at Brophy College Preparatory, the Jesuit high school in Phoenix, Arizona. The student invites those who watch the video to experience the stories of people migrating who KBI serves and the staff with an open heart — to encounter their humanity. 

Migrant: Stories of Hope and Resilience presents a range of migrant accounts that encourage readers to identify with the challenges migrants face, question assumptions about their lives and reasons for migrating, and tackle the complicated questions posed by our current immigration system.

BY KELLY SWAN | August 7, 2017

“Compassion is the virtue of suffering with—imagining what it is like to be in another’s shoes.”
[Fr. Dan Reim, SJ]

For four days in late July, thirty-eight Jesuit college and university students gathered, brought together by a shared capacity for compassion, for the Ignatian Justice Summit.

Students from fourteen Jesuit colleges and universities gathered near Cleveland, OH in late July for ISN’s Ignatian Justice Summit.

The Summit, facilitated by the Ignatian Solidarity Network and held on the campus of John Carroll University in University Heights, OH, drew participants from fourteen Jesuit schools—Boston College, Canisius College, College of the Holy Cross, Creighton University, Georgetown University, John Carroll University, Loyola Marymount University, Loyola University Chicago, Loyola University Maryland, Rockhurst University, Saint Louis University, Saint Peter’s University, Saint Joseph’s University, and Xavier University—throughout the U.S. to connect, educate, and network for immigration justice.

José Cabrera (left) speaks with a fellow Ignatian Justice Summit participant.

José Cabrera, a student at Xavier University, was energized by his fellow participants who are “ready to fight for an issue that they might not be directly affected by.”  Cabrera works with Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center in Cincinnati, OH as an immigration program organizer, developing young leaders for immigration rights. Cabrera has been an immigration activist for many years, and is himself a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient.  “The Summit gave me the tools to say ‘this is part of our Jesuit values’: it’s not just [working for justice] for me or for other immigrants, but it is what our Jesuit mission and the Jesuit values are about.”

Partners from the Jesuit network brought specific expertise and experience on immigration issues. Marcos Gonzales, S.J., case manager and local organizing committee member at Homeboy Industries, grounded the Summit in the Ignatian tradition. Gonzalez drew students into a deeper understanding of immigration justice, Ignatian spirituality, and exploration of their own personal faith and history in their own work for justice.

Marcos Gonzales, SJ, guides participants through reflection and discussion on seeking justice through an Ignatian lens.

Miriam Uribe, a 2017 University of San Francisco graduate who is both undocumented and an advocate for the undocumented community, joined participants at the Summit as a powerful voice in the week’s conversations about migration.

Miriam Uribe at the Ignatian Justice Summit.

 

As part of a panel discussion on Jesuit network innovation, Uribe outlined her success in planning and implementing a campus “UndocuWeek” at the University of San Francisco. The event celebrated and highlighted the struggles of the undocumented community, serving as a call to action for both individuals and institutions to uphold Jesuit values and stand up to injustices faced by undocumented people.

Uribe was joined on the panel by Flavio Bravo, a Loyola University Chicago graduate who, as a student, worked to pass the Magis Scholarship fund for undocumented students. Natalie Terry also shared the work of St. Agnes Parish in San Francisco, a Jesuit sanctuary parish sponsoring a refugee family in their community.

Students participate in a social justice incubator session, sharing innovative responses to immigration and other social justice issues on their campuses to promote network-wide collaboration and spark new ideas.

Uribe also shared her own immigration story during a policy briefing with Kristen Lionetti, policy director for the Jesuit Conference’s advocacy office and Joanna Williams, director of education and advocacy at the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, AZ. “Storytelling was vital to the Summit experience,” shares Uribe, specifically referencing those students whose exposure to immigration issues and immigrants themselves is minimal. “Having a personal connection to someone’s story humanizes the issue.”

Students discuss immigration issues on their campuses.

“I was nervous coming into this program as a facilitator,” shares Uribe. “I was afraid that students might be disinterested, particularly those who are new to immigration issues. But after each presentation, students approached me with questions and for feedback on ideas for their own campuses.” On the experience of connecting with a diverse group of students at the Summit, Uribe shares that she “wishes that this opportunity had existed a few years ago. This network would have made such an impact on me during my first two years of college. I would have been less lonely, knowing that people are working as allies. It is so encouraging that action is being taken at all of these schools across the country.”

Sabrina Blakely discusses her delegation’s action plan with Summit participants from other schools.

Sabrina Blakely, a student at St. Joseph’s University, was one student who arrived at the Summit with great compassion for those who migrate, but very little practical knowledge. She had spent time with her sister who lives in a Catholic Worker community that serves as a safe home for immigrants in Houston. “I felt like I was standing in solidarity with the community of immigrants, but I didn’t know what I could be doing on the ground,” she explains. “I’m grateful for learning what our policies are, what is happening currently, and having someone break it down in a way that was accessible for me. Although I’m not in position to dedicate my entire life to living in a safe home like my sister does, there are ways I can live out the Gospel in the context of my life and where I am right now.” Blakely found advocacy training to be particularly useful. “I learned how to simply call my senator, what to say—getting over that small fear of doing that.”

As the Summit came to a close, energy was high as students from each school shared action plans with the group. Many students had already reached out to peers, administrators, and faculty members at their schools to clarify policies, pitch ideas, and learn more about current realities for students at their schools who are immigrants. Ideas centered around ways to increase dialogue and storytelling with campus communities, events promoting awareness and action on immigration issues, and scholarship programs for undocumented students, amongst others.

“The most important thing for me is remembering that this is the work of the Gospel,” shared Blakely before departing. At closing Mass, Fr. Dan Reim, S.J., a campus minister at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, issued a challenge to Summit attendees in light of the day’s Gospel reading, focused on the seed sown among thorns: “To make a seed grow into something fruitful takes time and a lot of hard work. Is your compassion deep enough to motivate you to navigate the thorns?”

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published as part of the Ignatian Solidarity Network News From the Network series.

BY JOANNA WILLIAMS | April 1, 2017
Readings

We are always in danger of normalizing injustice, or believing it to be inevitable.

We hear of Jesus’ crucifixion so often that we are tempted to think there was unshakable unanimity amongst the leaders of Jesus’ day that he was a threat to the power structure and must be arrested. Yet today’s readings remind us that there were dissenting voices.

DTRocks via Wikimedia Commons

Here at the border, every day we witness the abuses in the immigration detention and deportation process. In US detention centers, immigrants are subjected to degrading treatment with little oversight. Earlier this year, an individual who had been through our comedor sought asylum in the US and was put in solitary confinement in Eloy Detention Center without access to needed medical care. Instead of accepting this treatment as normal, we spoke out against the injustice and, at our encouragement, an official responsible for oversight decided to respond. Although she was initially skeptical of his account, like Nicodemus, she decided to hear and find out. Thanks to a dissenting voice, he received the treatment he needed and he no longer had to live every day of his time in detention in fear.

We must be the dissenting voices that shed light on the abnormality of injustice, prophesy to the fact that a better world is possible, and encourage our government officials and representatives to do the same.

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published as part of the Ignatian Solidarity Network Rise Up: A Lenten Call to Solidarity series.