Family Beyond Borders, Reflection on an Immersion Trip To Juarez

Deacon Herb and Peggy Casey
Last Sunday, on the feast of the Holy Family, Deacon Herb Casey gave the following homily reflecting on his recent Maryknoll immersion trip to Juarez, Mexico/El Paso, TX.  The Gospel from last Sunday was about how Joseph, Mary and Jesus had to migrate to Egypt to flee prosecution by Herod.

This past November 28th (Thanksgiving Day), the Bishops along the Texas/New Mexico and Mexican border issued an Open Letter to all Catholics and All People of Good Will called “Family Beyond Borders”. I urge you all to read this document. It can be found on the USCCB web site.

It reads like this:
Since his election as Roman Pontiff, Pope Francis has often stated that our efforts to renew the Church will only have credibility when we become courageous Christians and seek out those on the margins who are most in need. The Holy Father has recognized the tragedy that involves millions of migrants on every continent; and the Holy Father has given expression to the Church’s responsibilities in their regard:

“The Church is mother and her motherly attention is expressed with special tenderness and closeness to those who are obliged to flee their own country and exist between rootlessness and integration. This tension destroys people. Christian compassion, that is “suffering with compassion”- is expressed first of all in the commitment to obtain knowledge of the events that force people to leave their homeland, and, where necessary, to give voice to those who cannot manage to make their cry of distress and oppression heard.”
In today’s Gospel we read about Joseph fleeing the threat of violence from the people ruling the territory around Bethlehem. So Joseph takes Mary and Jesus and flees to Egypt. They are undocumented, border crossers. It’s a good thing they didn’t need papers or passports or climb a 20 foot barb-wire fence. If they had tried that in today’s environment they would have landed in a Detention Center and deported back to Bethlehem.

Since 2008, 120,000 men, women, and children have been killed in Mexico. On average, that’s 20,000 per year; more then have died in Syria.

At the Mexican Border
Just a few weeks ago on December 10th, Peggy and I had a wonderful opportunity to go on a Maryknoll Immersion Trip with several other Deacons and their wives to El Paso, Texas. While there we crossed over into Mexico to the Mexican city of Juarez to be in solidarity with the people living there while they celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec 12th. It was an eye-opening and heart wrenching experience to see such poverty. But it was also a blessing to participate in celebrating this feast day with their culture.

Annunciation House
While we were in El Paso, we visited the Annunciation House, which is a refuse for undocumented people fleeing from violence, hunger and other poverty conditions in the towns and villages they grow up in. There were about 50 to 60 guests living in the Annunciation House at that time of our visit. Ruben Garcia, the founder and director of the Annunciation House shared some stories about families caught in what I refer to as the “Immigration System”. Many U.S. citizens are surprised to learn the problems that would-be immigrants face in order to migrate to the U.S. legally and the extent to which deportations from the United States have increased in recent years. The U.S. Department of State issues available visas through a complex system that has limits for various categories of family-sponsored and employment based preferences and quotas for individual countries. Currently there is a seventeen to twenty year “wait” for Mexicans to acquire a U.S. visa. This long wait leads many to conclude that there is no realistic “line” to enter. Rather, the system itself is seen as unjust, causing families to disintegrate over time.

In the Fiscal Year 2011, the United States deported 397,000 people and detained nearly that many. Despite the stated objectives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to avoid family break-ups, a growing number and proportion of these deportees are parents. In the first six months of 2011, the federal government removed more than 46,000 mothers and fathers of children who were born in the U.S. and therefore citizens. These deportations shatter families.

We visited a barrio or neighborhood in Juarez built on an old garbage dump. Volunteers and local citizens build the Holy Spirit Center which acts as a clinic and center for the residents of the surrounding area, and a school for the children that do not have birth certificates, allowing them to attend the Mexican public school system. There was no electricity or heat in any of the center’s buildings the day we visited and the temperature was in the 30’s. Looking at the smiles and laughter the children displayed, the hospitality shown to us by the Center volunteers, you would never know that they understood the level of poverty they lived in. Their generosity was heart-warming.

We drove to another area at the Texas/New Mexico/Mexican border where the border fence stretched for miles in either direction, and border security guards patrolled what looked like every ½ mile. We stopped there to pray and reflect on what that fence really meant. Many of us were brought to tears as we stood there knowing that those on the other side would never get a chance to cross over and be in solidarity with those on the other side. Many are related to each other, but are permanently separated. While we stood at the fence, some children from the barrio came to the fence to say hello, we could only stick our figures through the fence and they grabbed our figures as a sign or jester of friendship. A lump stuck in my throat and I was overcome with emotion as I tried to respond with a simple hello and greeting. It was both a moment of grace and great sadness. What a paradox!

Pope Francis has articulated a basic value of our Catholic faith: “There is neither real promotion of the common good nor real human development when there is ignorance of the fundamental pillars that govern a nation, its non-material goods: life, which is a gift of God, a value always to be protected and promoted; the family, the foundation of coexistence and a remedy against social fragmentation ….. “

What is happening to the immigrant family in the United States is an offense against God and the human conscience…. History itself teaches the sad truth that John Paul II captured so eloquently when he said; “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”

We urge you to join Pope Francis, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Bishops of Mexico and Central America, and people of good will everywhere – to engage in dialogue, advocacy, and action to protect the rights of immigrants and to help keep their families together. Our commitment to protect and defend, to nurture and enhance the gift of every human life has never been stronger. We need to embrace all our sisters and brothers in this commitment, at whatever side of the border they find themselves.

So as we continue with our Eucharistic celebration today the feast of the Holy Family, let us remember St Paul’s words; “Put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another.”

If any of you are interested in going on an Immersion Trip please see me after Mass.

Reading for the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph (Cycle A):Book of Sirach 3:2-7,12-14; Psalm 128:1-5;Letter of St. Paul to the Colossians 3: 12-21;Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Deacon Herb and Peggy Casey are Mission Promoters for the Maryknoll Deacon Mission Partners Program.  Herb was ordained for the Diocese of Oakland and they live in Concord, CA.  For more information go to the:   Maryknoll Deacon Mission Partners Program.