Being a part of El Paso's hospitality for migrants - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Coralis at Casa Papa Francisco

Coralis Salvador (second from right) assists migrants at El Paso’s Casa Papa Francisco shelter with cooking lunch.

Living at the U.S.-Mexico border, I have often heard local El Pasoans state that migrants are a part of this place, its culture and its people. They have always had people “passing through” as refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and immigrants. This community has practiced hospitality, Christian values and humanitarian welcome for people who are vulnerable as they are clearly on a journey for their lives.

Since 1995 — and after a nine-year hiatus, again since January 2019 — Maryknoll lay missioners have been serving at the border, responding to the waves of migrants fleeing situations of violence, poverty, environmental degradation and political and social corruption in their respective countries. Together with many other faith-based organizations who are offering concrete services and accompaniment to hundreds of thousands of traumatized human beings, lay missioners speak of being transformed by the experience of working for justice inspired by compassion and mercy.

The El Paso March and Vigil for Human Dignity on March 21, 2024 (Photos by Adrian Laudani)

The recent attempt by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to shut down Annunciation House — a well-respected, 46-year-old shelter ministry in El Paso — was met with a strong showing of solidarity among local organizations and others across the U.S.

Annunciation House — where two current Maryknoll lay missioners and several returned Maryknoll lay missioners work — and other service providers in El Paso have become the rallying point to call for moral leadership. That call is heard not only in Texas but throughout the U.S. to protect the rights of faith-based individuals and organizations to practice hospitality in the name of Gospel values and to promote and protect the rights of migrants to seek asylum and refuge from the many forms of violence that motivate their migration.

On March 21, the Hope Border Institute, together with the Diocese of El Paso, Maryknoll Lay Missioners and other sponsoring organizations, coordinated “Do Not Be Afraid: A March and Vigil for Human Dignity.” The event commemorated the deaths of 40 migrants who one year ago were trapped in a shelter in Ciudad Juárez and were burned to death. It brought hundreds of people to march through downtown El Paso to Sacred Heart Church, which has also become a safe haven for migrants in El Paso.

At Sacred Heart Church, El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz and other faith leaders prayerfully commended the many migrants who have lost their lives to God and called upon all of us to not be afraid but to be mindful of who we are and to stay committed to the struggle, which is far from over.

Maryknoll was proud to be counted among those present to create one voice for the voiceless, accompaniment for the weary, and offer service to “the stranger left to die by the side of the road.”

Reflections and discussions which followed have clarified the need for next steps in the challenges that remain:

  1. To express solidarity and support for Annunciation House, and to denounce the actions of Texas’ attorney general against Annunciation House.
  2. To denounce the extremist policies included in Texas Senate Bill 4, which criminalize all who offer hospitality and services for migrants.
  3. To denounce the unconstitutional Operation Lone Star crafted by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to weaponize fear and distract from the urgent need for reforming our broken immigrations laws.

At the U.S.-Mexico border — and at every border where migrants huddle — we know that the journeys of migrants are long and arduous, and that for them nothing less than life itself is at stake. Migration is deeply rooted in human history, and now it is our time to speak with a moral voice, and with gospel convictions.

The currently four Maryknoll lay missioners serving at the border speak with their actions of service and accompaniment by joining other community organizations at the migrant shelters, through legal advocacy, and offering educational opportunities to learn from our brothers and sisters living on the margins. It is incumbent upon such missionary disciples to tell the stories, to share the values, cultures and languages that will bring about reconciliation and transformation among people and countries.

We know that it is a long but worthy journey to counter hate and fear with encounter, diversity, hospitality, compassion and nonviolence.

Elvira Ramirez
Elvira Ramirez is Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ executive director.