Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Pilgrimage of the Heart

For the last six months I have observed and participated in a variety of border and immigration ministries in southern Arizona and northern Mexico (Sonora) from hospitality (el comedor, Kino Border Initiative, Sonora) to deportation proceedings (special procedures court, "Operation Streamline", Tucson federal courthouse), from keeping vigil at el Tiradito shrine, remembering those who have died crossing the desert, to training with Tucson Samaritans - and serving at the comedor with Samaritans of Sahuarita and Green Valley.

And I have gone to meetings with a variety of pastors and deacons - witnessing in action the Children's Clinic at St Andrews Nogales Arizona with their pastor, coffee house chats with a deacon, and several committee meetings with the Border and Immigration Committee of St Philips in the Hills, as well as lectures by Fr Daniel Groody CSC at the university (a theology of migration) and film (“Who is Dayani Cristal?”).

I have spoken with members of St Michael and All Angels and St Andrew’s Episcopal Churches in Tucson, and with volunteers of the Casa Mariposa/Restoration Project who have been meeting people at the Greyhound bus station in Tucson, people recently released from detention by ICE/Border Patrol ...

This past month the big news had two parts. First, the Tucson bus station began receiving eighty people a night, women with children released with instructions to appear for a hearing within a month at an immigration court - presumably near family already in the United States - lest an order for removal close their case. No warning. Just dropped off.

Second, the incredible news that the Border Patrol has flown a thousand kids from Texas to Arizona and then put them into a warehouse (I've seen it from the road - it is meant for pallets of flour, not people) in Nogales AZ. These are unaccompanied minors from Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras) refugees from violence and extreme poverty. The warehouse was empty recently; just reopened it serves as a temporary (promise: 72 hours) detention facility. It is on La Quinta Road near the truck crossing into Mexico.

The local volunteer agencies (including Restoration Project and more recently Catholic Community Services of Tucson) apparently already have more than they need of in-kind donations of supplies (toys, food, water, clothing) to meet the immediate needs of the refugees.

The ongoing need for change in policy and practice, compassionate work for change and a deeper understanding of our fellow human beings, exploited and caught in the middle of a gigantic and ongoing crisis, and the need to reach out in love across boundaries: all this continues.

It helps to see this effort as a pilgrimage of the heart. On my own journey to the border, and to Children's Clinic at St Andrews, Nogales, Arizona, I also visited San Xavier du Bac, the mission founded centuries ago by Fr Eusebio Kino, which continues to function as a place of pilgrimage and a spiritual center for southern Arizona and the surrounding area. The pilgrimage of the heart - from the heart of one human being to another - is the ongoing challenge, and blessing.

One thing I have been thinking about this past week is that this situation is similar to so many others in humanitarian relief and development work. There is an immediate crisis that gets our attention - and an ongoing problem that needs lasting sustained effort. All of a sudden on our own southern border is an immense influx of refugees, in two remarkable groups, women with children seeking to reunite with their families, and unaccompanied minors - mainly teenagers but also younger children - who have been sent north without adults. Preponderantly these people, in both groups, have come north through Mexico from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Why? Besides a sell job by human smugglers there are economic and political reasons for this migration.

People come to Arizona to work, to re-unite with their families, or to find and begin a new chapter in their life.

We need to practice a theology of hospitality - a spirituality of migration. We were strangers once, too - how shall we welcome the new?

So - an ongoing need is there. The need for change - in our national policies, in our practices of welcome, and in our influence on conditions in other countries, as well as our attitudes toward the 'foreigner' - continues.

John R. Leech
Tucson, Arizona
July 2, 2014


(“Sparks of the Light”, Coracle, the quarterly magazine of the Iona Community, Winter 2014, 13-14)