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Post #3 — God Probably Wants You to Do It

12/18/2018 08:29:32 AM


Our spirit guide during this journey is Father Pete Neely, Associate Director of Education for Kino.  A San Francisco native, Father Pete ultimately found his calling as a Jesuit priest.  He was assigned to El Salvador during the Salvadoran civil war.  It was during that assignment, in 1989, that Salvadoran Army soldiers killed six Jesuits and two others at their residence on the campus of UCA El Salvador San Salvador.  Father Pete was the only one to survive.

He took it as a sign to become a martyr for the cause of the Salvadoran peasants.  But his superiors had other ideas.  They told him he could do better work among his own people, in the United States.

“If you’re trying to figure out whether God is telling you to do something,” he tells us, “ask yourself: is there a pretty good chance God wants me to do this?  And do I not want to?”

He concludes, “If the answer to both those questions is ‘yes,’ God probably wants you to do it.”

Hence, our meeting with Father Pete, at a humble house, just outside the Mexican border.

Father Pete explains the three-fold mission of our visit to the border: humanize, accompany, complicate.

Understanding the desperation of these souls is part of the humanization.  The migrants, as we have seen in the news, are no longer coming to the border just from Mexico.  Refugees are now arriving from countries like Guatemala and Honduras, fleeing mafia violence that has reached the countryside.  This is not a homogenous group of Spanish-speakers, as the US president and his supporters imagine, but a diverse group from various countries and backgrounds.  Many migrants speak little or even no Spanish, instead speaking indigenous languages like Comecrudan and Yuman.

Of course, immigrant deaths didn’t start with Trump.  Since 1994, Father Pete explains, 7,000 people have died in US deserts, mostly in Texas and, here, in Arizona.  But Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy has forced people to take increasingly dangerous risks to escape capture.  In our group, we can’t help but talk about Jakelin Caal Maquin, the eight-year-old Guatemalan girl who just died in ICE custody.   Father Pete tells us that the New Mexico desert her family crossed was one of the most barren in the country, a full 80 miles from the border to any kind of civilization. The Bounds Forward Operating Base, a Border Patrol substation in New Mexico's Bootheel region — meant to allow agents to deploy to the border more quickly — is no place for a sick child. 

With cramped quarters and insufficient bathroom facilities, it’s really no place for any child.


When it’s time to travel to the comedor, we pile into our rental cars and drive to the Mexican border.  But instead of driving in, we park the car and walk.  Driving in would be no problem, but leaving would be a different story.  As we walk into Mexico, completely unmolested, we can see the line of cars and semis idling in place, waiting to get into the US.  The wait, we’re told, can easily be three hours.The comedor was designed as a food station but, despite only being one room, it has clearly evolved into much more.  Around the corner from the tiny kitchen are sorted piles of supplies — jackets, underwear, canned food.  In an opposite corner is a tiny medic station, its walls piled high with basic pharmaceuticals like ibuprofen and bandage wraps.  There is a makeshift curtain for anything that might require privacy, but when the comedor is full (as it is when we serve our meals) diners often spill into the medic station.  Privacy is a luxury here.

This being December, the comedor is festooned with a variety of colorful Christmas decorations, but there are always Christian symbols here.  The wall with the bathrooms also displays a prominent crucifix, complete with a white Jesus.  But it sits just below a wall-size mural of the Last Supper, the faces of the disciples being Latin American, and Jesus portrayed wearing a backwards ball cap.

Father Pete tells us that the Kino crew has just celebrated the posada, a reenactment of the pilgrimage to Bethlehem by Mary and Joseph (los peregrinos) in search of a room.  Mary and Joseph’s passed through the countryside, looking for refuge for their exhausted souls, but instead find no room at the inn.  The parallel is obvious.  Nobody in this cramped room needs to make the connection explicit.

Sun, May 29 2022 28 Iyyar 5782