To be a prophetic church - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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A group of deacon candidates from Davenport, Iowa join Sr. Betty in speaking the names and praying for the victims. This group, organized through the Encuentro Project, included Bishop Thomas Zinkula.

“How can we be part of re-energizing the Church toward the prophetic nature of the Gospel?”

Rubén García, the founder and executive director of Annunciation House, a shelter for migrants in the heart of El Paso, invited me to reflect on this very question at the start of a recent visit to the U.S./Mexico border.

Throughout my week, I encountered many who both envision a prophetic Church and re-energize it considerably. It looks like dialogue and collaboration across parishes, communities, organizations and economic realities. It is border patrol and ICE reaching out to Catholic leaders to help quell a crisis and weave compassion into a cold and inhumane system.

A Church reclaiming its prophetic edge resembles three bishops who rediscover joy and maintain hope by being near their people. Two Irish nuns and a lay volunteer bring Matthew 25 to life as they prepare to welcome, feed, clothe, shelter and support migrants just released from detention. Individuals, volunteers and groups strive to create community rooted in contemplation, simplicity and justice. A young man maps out visits to Catholic Worker houses to help discern his next steps after his worldview exponentially grew during his year of volunteering.

A prophetic Church does not shy away from dialogue, praying together in the streets, organizing, and asking what is possible instead of focusing simply on all that is wrong. A Church that is prophetic accompanies the marginalized, strives to understand and address the root causes of oppression, and joins with others in speaking truth to power and bearing witness to the dignity and rights of all people.

Prophets at the border
Sister of Mercy Betty Campbell

Sister of Mercy Betty Campbell

Sr. Betty Campbell, a Sister of Mercy, is among the many prophets in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. Sr. Betty’s commitment to the people of Latin America dates back to the 1960’s. For over 5 decades, she and Carmelite Fr. Peter Hinde have maintained an extraordinary commitment to advocate for people who are oppressed throughout the Americas. They have worked with others to search for solutions to the poverty and marginalization of people.

For the last 25 years, they have lived in Ciudad Juárez to continue their accompaniment of and solidarity with migrants and local people whose lives are impacted by the insidious violence of the cartels, coyotes and drug traffickers. Since 2005 in Mexico alone, over 412,000 have died from such violence.

During our time together, she led us to an outdoor room of murals containing the names of women, men, migrants, journalists, students and others who have disappeared or been murdered. We were invited to write a name or two, adding to the lists, so that these – the least of our sisters and brothers – can be remembered by name. As the quote on the picture states, this act is done in “En Memoria por la verdad, la justicia, la paz, el amor” (In memory for truth, justice, peace and love!)

murals memorializing individuals who have disappeared or been murdered

Murals memorializing the names of people who have disappeared or been murdered.

Listen to those at the margins

Pope Francis, in his message for the fifth World Day of the Poor (Sunday, November 14), is clear that we must “let ourselves be evangelized” by our sisters and brothers living in poverty and “to place them at the center of the Church’s journey.” Like the Church on both sides of the border that bore witness to me, “we are called to discover Christ in them, to lend them our voice in their causes … to be their friends, to listen to them, to understand them and to welcome the mysterious wisdom that God wants to communicate to us through them.” Like Sr. Betty and Fr. Peter, our commitment to the poor “considers the other in a certain sense as one with ourselves.”

Pope Francis, the committed faithful at the border, and many others are reclaiming the prophetic edge of the Church. Perhaps now more than ever, we need that inspiration! How will we contribute?

As we approach the holiday seasons of gratitude, giving and re-birth, perhaps God is inviting each of us to consider what it means to be a prophetic Church. What does it look like? How does this shape my prayer? My actions, my decisions, my life? How can I help re-energize the Church? And if my relationship to the Church is strained at this time, how can I still bear witness to the prophetic nature of the Gospel?

As you reflect on these questions, you might also consider …

And, like Sr. Betty, we can always speak the names of those who are oppressed, remembering them in prayer and in our efforts to build a world of truth, justice, peace and love.

Ted Miles
Ted Miles is the former executive director of Maryknoll Lay Missioners.