‘A new vessel’ - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Lent 2024 newsletter


Deirdre Griffin, SSJ, U.S.-Mexico Border

Deirdre with migrant

Deirdre with a migrant guest at Casa Papa Francisco in El Paso

This year I have entered into the season of Lent with a sense of anticipation that is new for me.

I returned to the desert at the U.S.-Mexico border here in El Paso, Texas in late October. I had been in Massachusetts for a few months, helping my family care for my beautiful mother, Betty, as she returned to God in August, and then making profession of my perpetual vows as a Sister of St. Joseph on Oct. 15.

I was blessed with the support of community (both from Maryknoll Lay Missioners and from the Sisters of St. Joseph), family and friends during this time, and I am forever grateful for the love that continues to sustain me.

At Mass in our local parish yesterday, I was touched at communion time with the realization that I have come to a “next place” in my journey. I have new clarity about my ministry here at this time — bringing legal orientation and limited representation services from Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center to guests hosted by the Annunciation House network of shelters.

One of our legal orientation workshops at a shelter in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

Legal services are very limited here, so the needs of guests recently released from immigration custody go largely unaddressed.

Because I am here as a Maryknoll lay missioner, I have the flexibility to engage this space of tremendous human vulnerability and legal complexity. I can take the time to sit with families who have survived harrowing suffering in their home countries and arduous journeys to reach the United States alive — and are now staring blankly at more than 10 pages of legal information in English, a language they do not yet understand.

The procedural requirements laid out in those papers can be a map that leads to either life or death for them and that helps or hinders their international right to pursue a claim for asylum, to request protection.

In all humility, I enter into conversations in Spanish to clarify the initial steps that must be taken to preserve this precious opportunity: “There are two parts to the process, like two trains running on parallel tracks: 1) When you leave here for your next destination, you must contact the ICE/ immigration office closest to you to “check in” within 60 days, and 2) You must submit a Motion to Change Venue in court so that your case travels with you to your new location. If you do not do this, you will be ordered deported in absentia.”

Many are able to receive this information and the one-page summary I provide in Spanish that includes a list of resources in their destination city. “Lastly,” I tell them, “if you want to apply for asylum, you must submit your application within one year of arriving in the United States.” For some, this third piece is just too much to take in, which is why I also include it on the summary sheet, hoping they will be able to bring it with them to meet with legal services professionals in their next destination.

The offertory hymn at Mass yesterday, Vaso Nuevo (tinyurl.com/vaso-nuevo), landed deep in my soul. It was the first time I heard it, and it is now my prayer touchstone for this Lent. The refrain is:

Yo quiero ser, (Dios) amado,
como el barro, en manos del alfarero.
Toma mi vida, hazla de nuevo.
Yo quiero ser un vaso nuevo.  

I want to be, dear God,
like mud in hands of the potter.
Take my life, mold it again.
I want to be a new vessel.

As I accompany Christ, suffering and rising in our guests, I am also journeying through the grief of my mother’s passing and living into the deep joy of vowed life. I am keenly aware that we are all being made new through God’s grace. It is a sacred invitation.

The spiritual practices of Lent — prayer, fasting, and almsgiving — can increase our capacity to trust that we are all in God’s hands. May you experience this grace in your own life circumstances, through deepening interdependence and communion.

Thank you for your companionship and care! As Texas political tensions rise, our gospel commitment to nonviolent accompaniment of the most vulnerable is very much needed.

La paz y un abrazo / peace and a hug,

Please consider supporting my mission work at the U.S.-Mexico border with your prayers and a donation through the link below.

I invite you to walk with me as a “COMPANION IN MISSION.” Companions in Mission are friends and generous donors who give financial gifts on a regular (usually monthly) basis. For more information, visit Become a Companion in MissionThank you so much for your generosity! 


Deirdre Griffin, SSJ
Deirdre Griffin, a Sister of St. Joseph of Springfield, Massachusetts, is based in El Paso, Texas, where she works as an immigration lawyer with Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, assisting migrants at Annunciation House shelters.