Finding the way - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Fall 2022 newsletter


Debbie Northern, U.S.-Mexico Border

With Richard, in front of one of the Camino markers

In the movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy was instructed to follow the yellow brick road. When Richard Gatjens, a longtime staff member of Maryknoll Lay Missioners, and I walked the Way of St. James (the Camino) from Tui to Santiago de Compostela in Spain a few weeks ago, we followed the yellow arrows and signs of the scallop shells, a symbol of the Camino.

Walking the Camino

Having a designated path to follow, along with hundreds of others who were also on the same journey, made it easy not to get lost. However, occasionally I wasn’t paying attention. One morning leaving one of the towns in which we were staying, a few of us were heading straight instead of veering off to the left. A man yelled out to us that we were headed in the wrong direction, and we were able to get back on track.

In life, too, we must look for signs of where God is leading us. Sometimes the signs are not so well marked or are on ways not well travelled by others. Over time, we become more accustomed to seeing the signs, but we still may need help finding our way.

We all are on a journey. Our starting point may not be the same, and we may take different routes to get to our destination. As fellow pilgrims, we need to help each other on the way and encourage each other to continue the hard journey we have ahead of us.

As we walked, people would wish us “Buen Camino” or good journey. Sometimes we would stop along the way and meet other pilgrims. One day a couple women shared a piece of candy with us, and another day I shared my tic tacs with others. There was a spirit of camaraderie, and there were many “angels” along the way who provided much needed help!

The first few days were hard; it rained, sometimes heavily, and I got blisters due to the wet conditions. I was able to just put one foot in front of the other to continue to where we would stay the night. Fortunately, good blister pads and some nice gel foot pads from a pharmacy greatly helped my aching feet.

On our walk I also thought about all the immigrants walking from South and Central America to the U.S. They often have no food, water or shelter; just their hope for a better life to help them continue. I was choosing to walk more than 80 miles; they are fleeing violence, oppression and poverty and have no choice but to walk hundreds of miles to find a safe haven for them and their families.

During our time away, Governors De Santis and Abbot stepped up their politically motivated campaigns of bussing migrants north — without their consent, without providing food or water and without coordinating with other municipalities. Migrants should not be treated as pawns; they have already suffered trauma and hardship enough.

A memorial to the 53 migrants who died in a semi-truck in San Antonio earlier this summer

Now, migrants are also being released onto the streets of El Paso, instead of coordinating and getting them to shelters where they can be helped to get basic necessities and get to where they want to go in the United States. They are human beings and not “illegally” here because they do have temporary documents.

The U.S. immigration policy and procedures are broken. Unfortunately, due to politics, our leaders are not willing or able to deal with the problems and find ways to humanely treat migrants. Obviously, the problem goes far beyond our borders and is an international problem as more countries are in the throes of war, economic and climate disasters, corruption and violence. We need a global response to help make it possible for people to live securely in their own countries.

Also, please keep in prayer all the migrants who have died on the journey, whether it be in the desert or at the hands of kidnappers. We especially remember the 53 souls who perished in the semi-truck in Texas. We missioners here in El Paso attended a memorial for them sponsored by Annunciation House.

This fall, I am returning to New York to assist with the new Orientation Class for Maryknoll Lay Missioners. I am happy to have the opportunity to assist the new missioners prepare for their new journey of service.

Thank you for your prayers and financial support for my mission and of all the missioners.

Debbie Northern

Please consider making a special gift to Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ “Walk With Us” campaign, which raises money for the recruitment, training and ongoing support of all of us lay missioners. We can only “walk with” the people here because you are “walking with” us. Thanks to matching gifts, every $100 given to the campaign in effect becomes $150. To donate ONLINE, click the “Walk With Us” button below. Thank you so much for your generosity!

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.