Walk with my people
Walk with My People
The words of Fr. Enrique Lopez, C.Ss.R. at the time I was studying Spanish has been my guiding principle for entering the world of Migrant Ministry. He said, “You need to know the customs, the faith, and the struggles of my people. If you will not walk with my people, don’t bother to learn Spanish.” My entry into Hispanic Ministry began in 1991 when Fr. Patrick Keyes, C.Ss.R. and I began a new initiative for Redemptorists in Denver. We began Casa San Alfonso as a house of welcome for young immigrants. We worked with young, recently arriving Hispanic immigrants, mostly from Mexico.
Our Congregation internationally was calling us “to evangelize and to be evangelized by the poor.” We believed that to be evangelized by the poor, we had to live with the poor. We moved out of the rectory to live in the barrio. We lived simply. We had no television. We invited youth to drop in at any time. Hospitality was the ministry of the Casa. We told young people that “there are beans on the stove and tortillas in the fridge. Our house is your house.” There was no agenda for the house beyond walking with the young people.
We invited a few men to live with us. They became part of the community. They prayed with us, welcomed others to the hospitality of the house and took up active roles in the youth ministry of St. Joseph’s Church. The men worked to support themselves and their families in Mexico. They also sought their high school diploma or GED and studied English as a second language. Recently, I visited three brothers who spent time at the Casa and their spouses. It was refreshing to see them over twenty-five years later speaking fondly of their time with us. They said, “We never felt like guests. It was our house.”
A sabbatical to walk “with my people”
In 2007, after sixteen years in Hispanic ministry, I needed a break from the frustrations of walking with the poor. My Provincial Superior told me to take a sabbatical. He said to “rest, play a little golf and don’t work for six months.” What a blessing. I spent six weeks visiting the families of people I knew from my years in Denver, and Liberal, KS. On my return from Mexico, I spent time picking cherries and living in migrant camps in California and Oregon. I spent time on both sides of the border, walking with my people.
As part of my sabbatical reflection, I was meditating on a Scripture passage and wrote the following prayer:
2 Corinthians 7:2-4
“Make room for us in your hearts! We have injured no one, we have corrupted no one, we have cheated no one. I do not condemn you. I have already said that you are in our hearts, even to the sharing of death and life together. I speak to you with utter frankness and boast much about you. I am filled with consolation and despite my many afflictions my joy knows no bounds.”
Lord, you have come to me in a multitude.
Migrants touching my life
in many unseen ways.
Not only have you not injured me
or cheated me or condemned me.
You have taken me
into your humblest of homes.
You have fed me with the fruits of the earth
and spiced my life
with the salsa of your stories.
You have enriched my life
by the generosity of the poor.
Juan and Irma insisting
that their bed was my bed,
while they slept on the floor.
Martin and Rosa visiting long into the night,
telling me of their life since we last met,
the day of their wedding 12 years before.
Rafa laughing and handing me a beer
to celebrate the end of a harvest.
Tavo bathing a homeless man.
And Araceli blessing me as she lay dying.
Like Paul, I boast of my Corinthians,
my migrants, my people.
Yet, my boast is in you, Lord.
For as you said, “When I was a stranger,
you welcomed me…”
Protect, O Lord, my Corinthians,
especially those crossing the desert today.
(Tomorrow’s blog: Walk with my people #2)