‘Always a missioner’ - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Advent 2023 newsletter


Debbie Northern, U.S.-Mexico Border

Border Mass in Rio Grande El Paso

Nov. 4 Border Mass on the U.S.-Mexico border in the Rio Grande

Forms, forms and more forms! As part of my ministry with Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, I assist asylum seekers who are filling out the CBP One phone app for a credible-fear appointment in order to enter the U.S. I also assist Venezuelans who are currently in the U.S. with completing their forms applying for Temporary Protective Status.

Measuring people’s height for their CBP One applications

Both of these forms are time-consuming and tricky to fill out, even for someone used to completing forms. For the migrants, many of whom are not used to filling out U.S. generated forms and do not have a lot of formal education, this task becomes even more daunting. Thankfully, non-profits such as Las Americas are reaching out to migrants to assist them.

During this time of Advent, we pray with all those who have been displaced from their homes or have fled and who are hoping and waiting for a chance to live in peace and safety. In Latin America, the Posadas, the reenactment of Mary and Joseph seeking a place to stay in Bethlehem is a popular pre-Christmas event.

The Posadas remind me of the migrants who are looking for a place of refuge. I also think about how the Holy Family had to flee to Egypt to avoid persecution from King Herod. Mary and Joseph with their newborn were refugees too, and they would very well understand the situation of millions of people around the world who are fleeing violence and persecution today.

The issue of migration is not just a U.S. concern; there are millions of displaced people around the world fleeing war, poverty, violence and climate change. They will continue to seek a safe haven regardless of the obstacles and hostility toward them because they feel they have no other choice. Hopefully, we can all work to seek a humanitarian response to this situation and to encourage the nations from which people are fleeing to find solutions for the situations that cause their citizens to flee in large numbers.

Each November, a Mass is held at the border of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas. The altar is placed right in the middle of the Rio Grande. This year the bishops of Juarez, El Paso and Las Cruces, New Mexico, were the celebrants. Maryknoll was well represented by sisters, lay missioners, and returned missioners. We prayed for the hundreds of migrants who have died trying to find safety crossing our borders and those who are in detention.

This year marks my 24th as a Maryknoll lay missioner and my last. I have decided to leave MKLM and am looking for a job on the East Coast. If you have any leads, please let me know!

I never knew when I entered Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 1999 that I would be a missioner for this long. My time in Tanzania, El Salvador and the U.S. has given me the opportunity to meet amazing people and learn new skills and knowledge. I am grateful for all these opportunities and will miss my MKLM and Maryknoll communities, but as we say, “Once a missioner, always a missioner.”

I thank all of you for your support over the years and would like to encourage you to continue being donors and supporters of Maryknoll Lay Missioners. Missioners in nine countries provide accompaniment and hope to people who are marginalized, and we need your help to continue our work.

Since I have been a missioner for almost 25 years, may I ask you to make a donation of $25 or even $250? It would mean a lot to me and the other missioners who will continue this good work.

If you donate online (see below) before the end of this year, your donation will be doubled through our current matching campaign. Your $25 becomes $50, and your $250 becomes $500.

Debbie Northern



Debbie Northern
Based in El Paso, Texas, Debbie Northern leads border immersion experiences with the Encuentro Project and assists migrants at shelters in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.