September 13, 2012
North Texas Catholic"It can be a dangerous business, going out your front door."
|Thirteen diocesan principals met with Principal Sister Karina Tapia (SSHJP) (front, center) of Father Yermo High School and Sr. Elizabeth Swartz, (back row, 6th over) Superintendent of Schools for the Dioceses of El Paso and San Angelo. Don Miller, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Fort Worth is peeking around Alfonso (Al) Mirabel's shoulder. Al is a member of the Maryknoll Mission education team with (middle row on left), flanked by Ariel Presbitero, Columban lay minister (kneeling on right) and Jacob Huju, volunteer at Casa Vides House (1st on right standing). (Photo by Fr. Bob Mosher, host for the Fort Worth group at the Columban House.)
With those words, J.R.R. Tolkien, warned his readers of the challenges of new experiences. This June, 13 of our Catholic school principals plus three members of the Catholic Schools Office staff, accepted that challenge. With the support and assistance of Fr. Tom Craig and the Diocesan Mission Council, the local Maryknoll Education Team, and the Columban Fathers, the group journeyed to El Paso by bus for a six-day Border Awareness Experience (BAE)
. The group "went out their front doors," looking to experience and learn firsthand our baptismal call to be missionaries.
While living in migrant housing, every day was filled with travels to various locations for interaction and presentations by experts in the situation. Each day closed with prayer and guided reflection on the day's events and presentations. The days were filled with a wide range of experiences and encounters with both locals and immigrants. Experiences included visits to the border fence to meet with Mexican nationals dealing with the struggles in their land, to local Catholic schools where 60 percent of the students daily arise at 4 a.m. to walk across the border for a Catholic education, and to federal immigration court with its backlog of nearly 50,000 cases. The group met with the Diocese of El Paso's Migration Office to be better informed about immigration law, visited the Border Patrol Museum to see and hear how these dedicated professionals perform their sworn duty, and went to presentations concerning the deadly danger of the drug cartels in Juarez. The week concluded with the group split into two in order to prepare and serve meals to nearly 80 immigrants living in two of the migrant houses. But intertwined with all this were daily powerful personal encounters with the people of the border. The principals were able to meet and dialogue with those struggling with immigration issues both as immigrants and those working with them. Views and perspectives were shared and discussed. Each day the principals were encouraged to journal about their experiences, their thoughts, reactions, and feelings about what they saw and heard. What follows are excerpts from those journals.Don Miller, Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Diocese of Fort Worth
My time spent in El Paso was a humbling experience that reminded me how blessed I was to have a roof over my head, food for my family, and a vehicle to transport me where I need to go. It was also an overwhelming experience to realize how close I am to my neighbors who have so little. I heard unbelievable stories from people whose homes and livelihoods were stolen from them in the middle of the night, yet they stood tall and risked their lives by just telling their stories. As I listened to these firsthand accounts of the injustice being committed against the residents of Lomas de Poleo*, all I kept thinking about was here we stand, all of us brothers and sisters, people of God, and we are separated by a fence. A fence to me that was put there to symbolize our differences, yet I know in my heart we are all the same.Mary Longoria, Principal, St. George Catholic School
As a child of a Panamanian immigrant, I realized how my family's struggle was somewhat similar to the women I met and broke bread with at the Casa Vides Home. Consideration of their plight reminded me of our true Christian bond. This mission trip has forever changed my life as I was reminded of how we are all one.Tawilhua Mitchell, Principal, Our Lady of Victory Catholic School
The BAE is a focused time to experience and reflect on border issues. Do you have to go to El Paso to think about la frontera? No, because border issues can be found in any community – poverty, violence, the importance of relationships when confronted with hardship, making difficult decisions to protect and provide for your family. However, the BAE provides an opportunity to more deeply feel and understand what these issues really mean. It is one thing to read about la frontera in the comfort of our own homes. It is quite another to see how they impact the lives of other human beings, people who are flesh and blood, who are part of the same human family that we are....
You may leave with new feelings or thoughts about the world we live in. At the very least, you are provided with a moment of grace during which you can deeply reflect on the meaning of mission for your own life and the kind of disciple you are called to be.Chad Riley, Principal, St. Joseph Catholic School
My reflection would be we must be the voice of the marginalized. We must include them in our lives when the opportunities are presented.Charlene Hymel, Associate Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Diocese of Fort Worth
It was an honor and a blessing to be able to live with and fellowship with the residents of Casa Vides. It opened my eyes and heart, made me realize the struggle, strength and faith these people have. Also, it made me understand poverty and pride.Nancy Martin, Principal, Cassata High School
I am much more aware of the interactions and my perception of prejudice and justice has changed. What am I going to do with this new awareness of my carbon footprint thanks to my time at the Columban Mission House? I am hungry for more information and will use the resources provided this week. We are a mission with a church – the challenge begins with what I will do with this personally, at my school and for a wider community. I am forever changed...Geraldine Syler, Principal, St. John the Apostle Catholic School
One of the things that struck me the most was seeing first-hand what some of our parents at All Saints had to go through in order to move up to Fort Worth and build a better life for their children and themselves. Through our attendance at immigration court and our consultation with the representative from the diocesan migration office we were able to see first-hand the problems that many of our families are struggling with as they try to obtain their citizenship. We were able to see how long the wait is for a person to try to obtain legal residency, much less how long it takes for the path to citizenship.
Through the meetings with members in the area, we were also able to hear first-hand accounts of many people who were being threatened by violence due to the drug cartels not only on the border but throughout Mexico. Again, more confirmation of the stories that are related by our families at All Saints, which affects our students as they have that constant worry about their family members still in Mexico dealing with the violence around them.Christina Mendez, Principal, All Saints Catholic School
I could see God's love at work here on Earth as the week went on, and I witnessed the love and care that the volunteers gave to the immigrants at Casa Vides and Annunciation House, not to mention the sacrifice of putting their own lives on hold to do this work. I was reminded of Teresa of Avila's prayer, "Christ has no body now but yours, no hands or feet on earth but yours." This, coupled with the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, helped me to understand the effect that each of us has in our own small way in helping with a big problem. We cannot solve the political and violence problems in Mexico, but we can each have a part in helping those who have the unfortunate luck to be a part of it. God promises each of us that He will be with us through thick and thin, and it is our responsibility, as people of God, to be his eyes of compassion and his hands and feet that do good using our own personal gifts, to the best of our ability, so these people will know that God is alive and is caring for them. We are each a small piece of a large puzzle, and we must figure out how we fit in to make the picture complete.Cathy Buckingham, Principal, Nolan Catholic High SchoolEditor's Note:
The Border Awareness Experience took place in and around El Paso. Casa Vides is one of the homes owned by Annunciation House, which provides shelter and humanitarian aid to immigrants. Our group helped cook and serve meals for the temporary residents, living in dormitory style housing.
* Lomas de Poleo is a small community of subsistence farmers who moved out to a desert area outside Ciudad Juarez in the 1970s. There are contradictory claims about the ownership of the land that have sometimes made the residents subject to violent persecution.