Some days I wonder.
Like today as I found myself at the border wall in Anapra singing songs, listening to Scripture, and spotting now-famous faces who had come to join our interreligious border witness ceremony sponsored by the Hope Border Institute. Catholic bishops from all over Texas and Mexico’s border cities joined local rabbis, priests-both male and female-, social activists, and, of course, Catholic sisters, who have a mighty presence in El Paso, in a sign of solidarity.
We were here, at the border fence in Anapra, to offer public witness to the real-life stories of real immigrants who are part of our community. To respond to what Bishop Seitz calls “dark times.” To show that those of us who have real-life encounters with immigrants have a different view of this so-called emergency.
I came across so many friends and dear acquaintances in the crowd it took me awhile before I realized Sr. Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, was among us.
I had to stand back for a moment and take it all in.
How did I get to this place in the desert that has now become oft-mentioned in the news?
A place that is portrayed in varying ways depending on who’s doing the portraying and their political agenda.
A place that has become, for me, an unexpectedly beautiful community.
One that stretches in solidarity all the way from Brownsville in the Rio Grande Valley to Las Cruces, NM. And now up to Albuquerque– another community that has begun to receive asylum seekers released by ICE.
A solidarity that even extends to the other side of that wall where people from Anapra, the poorest barrio in Ciudad Juarez, sang of joy and hope and the promise of God, as we snapped pics through the slats in the iron fence and exchanged blessings.
And even on THAT side of the fence I recognized people I know.
Like Sr. Josefina with whom I stayed for a weekend in Juarez five years ago when I first came here to volunteer. It had been my first experience with devastating poverty. I had returned to Virginia forever changed.
And Fr. Bill Morton, the Columban father who chose to leave El Paso and live with the poor in Anapra. He’s happier than he’s ever been.
These faces, these stories– they answer the question of how I got here.
The Spirit that spoke to me then is just as strong now. I feel it as I look over the crowd of like-minded souls. I hear it as I’m blasted by the sound of the train barreling through, yards behind our ceremony — its deafening horn a regular “treat” in El Paso. I see it in the golden hues of the setting sun enveloping the Franklin mountains.
These are each precious evidence of a God who astonished me by putting this place on my heart.
I listened. Now I’m here.