The hope rock

With one hand I grip my luggage and move slowly down an air-bridge at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. With my other hand, I reach around to check that my backpack is securely zipped. My skin brushes a cool and smooth rock poking through the mesh pocket on the outside of my bag. I turn to my friend, Sister Priscilla, and point to the palm-sized glacial stone decorated with colored markers. With a hushed voice I quickly explain, “I forgot this hope rock was in my bag, I made it when I was leading a retreat a few weeks ago. I’m glad I’m bringing a hope rock to the border.”

Sister Priscilla and I were on our way to meet other members of Giving Voice at the Tucson airport so we could go to the SOAW Convergence at the Border. In Nogales, the giant border town that straddles the line between southern Arizona and northern Sonora, we would join immigrants, activists, and other religious for a weekend of speeches, song, and prayer. We would rally on both sides of the border fence, not far from where…

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.]

The hope rock that I carried to the Border Convergence in Arizona and Sonora.  Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
The hope rock that I carried to the Border Convergence in Arizona and Sonora. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Why I am going to the Border

I am about to leave the beautiful, safe and peaceful Northwoods of Wisconsin and travel to the U.S./Mexico border for the weekend.

I’ll be joining thousands at the SOAW Border Convergence in Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Mexico; with other Catholic sisters and members of Giving Voice as we pray and give witness for peace and compassionate immigration reform.

I am going to the border because I want to pray for the beloved deceased and be a peaceful witness.

It is a violent and contentious place where hundreds of people die unnoticed each year. Some are shot by border patrol agents, but most die of heat stroke, dehydration or hypothermia. Plus, much of the violence is spurred by economic disparities and U.S. drug and gun control policies.

Here is a map of locations where human remains were recovered by No More Deaths just in August of 2016:

RHR.Aug16.AZ.NoMoreDeaths
The red dots mark the places at which 16 human remains were found in August. One hundred twenty-five bodies have been discovered in Arizona since the current fiscal year began in October 2015. (Map by Ed McCullough. Source: https://www.facebook.com/groups/92300350558/)

I am going to the border because I am concerned about immigrant detention.

In 2010 I wrote about an experience I had praying at an immigration detention center in Chicago. The knowledge I gained that day—the fact that immigrants are denied basic human needs such as hygiene supplies and food once deported—continues to disturb me. The description of humans put in cages makes my heart ache every time they surface in my mind. It is horrific that 27,000 unaccompanied minors have been seized and detained at the U.S. border between October 2015 and March 2016. Plus, I took a course about the Japanese-American concentration camps during World War II and read this disturbing article that convinces me we must not detain folks based on race, immigration status nor place of origin.

A crowd prays at a detention center in Illinois, June 2012, blessing a bus as it brings immigrants to the airport to be deported. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
A crowd prays at a detention center in Illinois in June 2012, blessing a bus as it brings immigrants to the airport to be deported. Photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA.

I am going to the border because I am a daughter of immigrants.

Much like the migrants that come today, my Norwegian and Irish ancestors immigrated to the United States in 1800s to escape poverty and make a better life for themselves and their families. My Irish great-grandmother came by herself as a teen and never obtained proper papers. But that didn’t make her a bad person. She was hard working and established a strong family—all who contributed to American society.

I am going to the border because others who have done so inspire me.

I am grateful for the witness of the folks who have walked The Migrant Trail and prayed for the dead. I especially appreciate this account of their journey.

I am going to the border because the U.S. Catholic Bishop’s principles of compassionate immigration reform make a lot of sense to me.

I agree with them wholeheartedly. Sure; nations have a right to protect their borders but they also must help keep families together, address root causes of migration, and honor all human dignity.

I am going to the border because I don’t want to be part of a nation that puts up walls.

I agree with Pope Francis’ words, stated after he celebrated Mass at the Ciudad Juárez U.S./Mexican border in February: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel.” Along the same lines I think we need to stop blaming, scapegoating and discriminating. It is time for us to have intelligent and compassionate national conversations about the complex issue of immigration.

I am going to the border because my hometown has been impacted by the current broken immigration policies.

In May 2008 the community of Postville, Iowa, was torn apart by the largest immigration raid in U.S. history. (OK: technically, my hometown is about 10 miles away, but it’s certainly the same community and our Catholic parishes were served by the same priest.) It was discovered that many of the undocumented workers at Agriprocessors meatpacking plant had been told to put an X on a piece of paper when they were hired in order to start working. The forms were falsified social security card documents created by their employers not understood by the people signing them. Many of the immigrants could not read nor write English nor Spanish. I have written more about the horrific Postville immigration raid and can attest to the fact that its impacts continue to be felt in Iowa as well as in Guatemala.

Kevin and Julia Walsh, Postville March, July 2008
Kevin and Julia Walsh, Postville Immigration Raid Vigil, July 2008.

I am going to the border because compassionate immigration reform is long overdue.

I don’t even know how many times in the past 20 years I’ve called or written members of congress and asked for them to help pass legislation that would reform the immigration system. Or, asked them to vote against something that would hurt immigrants. Or, asked them to help protect a particular immigrant from detention or deportation. I’ve distributed postcards, signed petitions, led prayer services and attended vigils. The fact that I have not seen much progress occur in this time is frustrating and exhausting. But, I will not stop working at it because people’s lives are literally on the line.

I am going to the border because I want our nation to see that Catholic sisters are crying out for the protection of the dignity of our immigrant brothers and sisters.

I have learned that a major aspect of my vocation as a Catholic sister means that I am living a prophetic life—a life that gives witness to the fullness of God’s reign just by virtue of its countercultural nature. My vows have me saying “no” to our culture’s obsession with wealth, sex and independence so that I can say “yes” to a life of prayer, community and service for the greater good; for the glory of God. Living this way means I must constantly advocate for the poor and proclaim God’s mercy and peace to all; I must use my voice for those our society has deemed voiceless.

You can follow Convergence on the U.S./Mexico Border online this weekend by searching the hashtag #ConvergenceAtTheBorder on Facebook and Twitter. You can keep up with the activities of us Giving Voice sisters in particular by searching the hashtag #GivingVoice. If you’d like more news coverage of the event, call your local media outlets and ask them to cover the story. There are resources for media here.

I hope you will pray in solidarity with us this weekend and help us advocate for peace, mercy, and compassionate immigration reform. Let us pray that we can be a nation that honors and protects the dignity of all people, especially those who are poor and fleeing violence. Let us pray for the dead and the protection of all life. Let us pray for the children who die and are detained.

Pray with us from this portion of the prayer service we will pray at the border this weekend:

Jesus, you who were a migrant, we call to you in one voice with those gathered at the border. We pray for all the people in our world who are on the move, escaping violence and poverty, and for all those who live, hiding and in fear, in our own country. God, we pray for all politicians and for all citizens, that we may be filled with your compassion. May our policies promote peace and keep families together. We pray especially for all the children caught in this web of oppression; protect them and their parents so that they may grow up in freedom. We continue to pray for comprehensive immigration reform that will, finally, offer justice for immigrants. Glory to you, God, for all that you have given us. We give you thanks, and we ask you for strength and courage. May we never tire of working for the common good; may we never lose your vision of a world of peace and love for all.  

Amen.

A Pilgrimage of Spiritual Commitment

“It would be like we have been living underwater, and for the first time, we would be able to come up and breathe.”  

I heard one of the undocumented immigrants say this. We just had finished a meditation of imagining what the day would be like when we, a group working on immigration reform, win citizenship. The tears of real joy, laughter, and heartbreak showed me a glimpse of reality of the 11 million people who are undocumented in our country.

As a result of this emotional reflection, we decided we needed to make this issue felt in our community and then created our Pilgrimage for Citizenship. Our journey was to tell the immigrant story and our path brought us through the very suburban communities I grew up in.

Walking past houses that could have been my parents’ elicited in me the feelings I often get as the white male organizer working on this campaign: first, a pang of guilt of about my affluence, then movement towards “I can fix the world on my own” mood, then a return of the sense of  guilt, and the cycle repeats.

After acting out of these emotions often, it has become clear to me they are simply unhelpful.  They ignore the real individualist sin of “whiteness” at work.

This sin directs me ask the questions, “Should I work on this or not? How should I work on this and with whom?” It all presumes and focuses on my choice.

Listening during the mediation on citizenship and walking the Pilgrimage have taught me that the questions I should be asking are not about my choices but about my commitment. Is my commitment to my own freedom of choice, even good choices about justice and right, or to the freedom of the community?  Is my commitment accountable to God and reality, or simply to my own feelings and preferences?

My immigration work has pushed me to be in more relationship with reality and people’s suffering, and this has set the tone for my commitment. On this issue it has meant using my gifts to be the most helpful and strategic in getting a Republican congressman to support citizenship.

Photo by Ben Anderson
Photo by Ben Anderson

Citizenship is necessary not only to stop the tremendous suffering caused by our broken immigration laws but also to give a democratic voice to 11 million aspiring voters in our community.

Our pilgrimage’s purpose was to start living into this desired reality by giving space for immigrants to have a voice and for voters to really listen to them. We talked to over 800 people at churches, yet our own Congressman would not even meet with us. (Read about the end of the pilgrimage here.) His response echoes a national answer. The door of the possibility of real immigration reform this year is continually closing.

Our faith-filled response in the face of this reality is to work as hard as we can to win citizenship now and if we don’t, buckling down next year to do the phone banking, door-knocking or whatever it takes to build the voting power to make this happen.

I believe we are only in relationship with God only as far as we are in relationship with reality.

My spiritual path therefore lies in this commitment to working with my immigrant brothers and sisters, and everyone in our community who wants a society where all can come up for air and breathe free.

oh hey, summer! well hello, stranger!

The last day of teaching was well over a week ago and since then I have been on the move.  My itinerant summer has begun.

Many people have asked me what I am up to this summer.  The truth is that my life is just as packed and full as it normally is.  I love it that way.

Here’s the plan:  I am taking a theology class here this week, working as a mentor for this program next week, helping out at my sister’s organic farm the following week, working as a camp counselor here for a couple weeks in July, preparing for the next school year and then going to World Youth Day in Spain right before the school year begins mid-August.   I am really excited about all these great things, I am very grateful to have these blessings.

As my adventures unfold, I quickly become overwhelmed with the privilege, freedom and blessings I live out of.

I am especially conscious right now of how I am afforded the freedom to have these adventures because I am an American citizen with a valid passport and a strong support system.  The circumstances of my life permit me to travel and serve freely without fear of persecution, arrest or deportation.  I am mindful of how many could never freely have the experiences I am allowed because they fear for their safety and freedom in a broken, global immigration system.

My summer kicked off on June 4.  That day, I joined my community in celebrating the first vows of Sister Amy at our Motherhouse in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  It was a beautiful liturgy and party and Amy was really glowing with the goodness of God.  What impressed most deeply upon my heart, however, was my pondering of one of the readings that Amy selected for her service:

But Ruth said, “Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you! for wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
Wherever you die I will die, and there be buried. May the LORD do so and so to me, and more besides, if aught but death separates me from you!”  –Ruth 1:16-17

What a beautiful devotion to the mystery of Love! Plus, what a commitment to the journey of discipleship!  Highlighted in my prayer in my contemplation of the Ruth story this time was how applicable the wisdom is to our struggle for just, compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform.

We have a lot to learn from the wisdom of history.  Thank God the border between the Moabite Plateau and Bethlehem wasn’t guarded! Praise God that the ancestor of Jesus could cross freely, remain devoted to love and family, and then marry across ethnicity!  Wow, what if our society worked that way!?  If we heeded scripture, I suspect we’d welcome strangers then realize they are saints.

Sadly, it doesn’t work that way, right now.  My heart aches because of the real injustices related to immigration.  Many days the sorrow meets me in my email inbox and I am compelled to advocate and learn more.

Last week, my community held our Chapter of Chats.  These meetings are rooted in the tradition that St. Francis and his friars had in the 1200’s to come together and hold a Chapter of Mats to discuss the happenings of their lives.  I helped with the sessions led by our Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation Committee, of which I am a member.  Our committee has been focusing our work on immigration reform for a while.  At the chapter, we viewed the powerful film The Visitor and discussed the great complexity of our broken immigration system. At another session, panelists spoke of how they personally have been impacted by the harm caused by the immigration laws.  As we gained awareness, we cried and prayed together that God would give us courage to act for change.

My concern with the topic of immigration extends beyond my work with JPIC.  As I state in this video, I am a daughter of immigrants.  I want all people to have same freedoms I have been blessed with.  Why should we be limited now?  Certainly, it seems necessary to have some order in our legalistic era, but I don’t think there is ever a justification for not treating people with dignity.

Although I have been concerned with immigration issues for a long time, it’s been more intense lately.  Last fall I visited an immigration deportation center in Chicago and it had a major impact on me.  I wrote about it here.  In 2008, the largest immigration raid in US history happened in Postville, Iowa just 10 miles from where I grew up.  Here is the story on NPR from last May, three years afterwards.   In July of that year, I attended a march and rally in Postville. It was amazing.

We were on the move that day.  We were moving with the Holy Spirit, like another Pentecost.  People of all races and tongues came from all over the nation to witness for the type of freedom we long and believe in: Christ’s freedom beyond borders, nations, languages, races, or places of origin.

As I move around this summer, I shall receive hospitality with joy and gratitude.  As we all move around, I pray that we can all welcome strangers and receive one another with the hospitality that Ruth- and Jesus- eventually found in Bethlehem.

Amen, Amen, may it be so!

Yo Soy Una Guadalupana (I Am A Guadalupana)

Photo, Dupre encountering Mary Guadalupana, used with permission from Delilah Montoya

Posted by guest blogger, Sister Sarah Hennessey

A Story of Marta

“I’m nervous because I’m here illegally.” Marta held out her arm for a blood pressure check. The nurse in the free clinic and I quickly reassured her that everything was confidential and she had nothing to fear. Marta continued, “I’m nervous because I am illegal and when we were crossing the border I was gang-raped by robbers. My husband convinced me to come in and get checked for STDs. I am nervous to find out the results. I don’t know if I got sick.”

We stopped in our tracks.  Here was something no one should ever have to worry about. Marta sat waiting for the doctor with courage.

America—Land of Maria

I came to the Catholic faith in Mexico. The Virgin Mary was everywhere and she completely confused me. Why did she have so many names? Why did women gather in the street to pray the rosary? Why did teenagers carry her face on everything they wore?

And why did I have to wake up at bloody 5 o’clock in the morning to blaring trumpets on December 12? I walked with sleep still in my eyes to the church. The smell of roses hit me like a wall that almost knocked me over. The church was packed. Guitars and mariachis led our songs. Welcome to the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!

The priest proclaimed the Gospel.

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Luke 1:39-43

Mary travelled to her cousin Elizabeth to help her prepare for childbirth. She came to comfort her and be of service.

Mary has done the same for us. She came to the people of the Americas in 1531 through the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, except this time instead of staying for three months she has stayed for almost five hundred years! Mary came to the Americas speaking Nautl with the face of a Mestiza. After her appearance eight million native Mexicans converted to the Catholic faith. She knew that we needed her to be our Mother. She was not a Goddess, but a woman of service and a face of compassion.

My friends patiently explained to me the meaning of Guadalupe. She came to us when we needed her and she has not left us alone. At the same time, she is a poor woman who suffered and opened her heart. As the Mother of God, she can come to us as no other woman can. As a woman she understands us as we are.

I need Guadalupe because I need to draw closer to Jesus. I need my heart to be busted open by the injustice around me, but before I drown in despair I need the hope of roses and guitars in the middle of the night.

I thought if I learned Spanish that I could welcome Mexican migrants in the United States the way they embraced me in their home country. Instead, I found it to be the opposite. In trailers, in farm labor camps, and in churches, they welcomed me. Even here, where they are strangers in the culture and face discrimination and deportation, I found hope. Last week a migrant was stranded here in Minnesota and our parish gave him a gas card to get to some family members. Tears in his eyes, he looked at us with confidence, “If you are ever in Guanajuato, my home is your home.”

After being examined by the doctor, it turned out Marta had no STDs. Her wounds were more intangible: the long road of healing before her, the daily insecurity of migrant life, and the challenge of feeding and clothing her family. Standing beside her is another woman who took a dangerous journey to help her family, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.