In-person border immersion program starts up again - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Fall 2021 newsletter


Coralis Salvador, U.S.-Mexico Border

“The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
—St. Irenaeus (c. 130-200)

Our Encuentro border-immersion group with a border patrol agent at the border wall.

Greetings from the U.S.-Mexico border!

My ministry at the Encuentro Project, our border immersion ministry, finally began in person in July. Its last pre-pandemic groups of participants had come in March 2020. This year we had two virtual Encuentro programs in March and June.

Renovated chapel room at Casa del Refugiado

The Encuentro Project facilitates immersion and encounter (encuentro) experiences for groups coming to the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez border. Participants experience working directly in shelters for asylum seekers, migrants or refugees; they learn the amazing Catholic Social Teaching and see the border realities. The program includes meetings with border patrols at the border fence/wall, and visits to different sites that provide services to asylum seekers on both sides of the border. Participants meet and hear the stories of migrants stranded in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

The daily schedule of Encuentro groups closes with evening reflection and spiritual accompaniment. Our hope is that at the end of this immersion, participants are changed and moved by what they have seen, learned and experienced — and that they return home fully alive and resolve to live out their faith in ways that promote the welfare of refugees and migrants.

While taking a shift at the Casa del Refugiado shelter, our first Encuentro group — alumni from Spring Hill College — focused on enhancing a plain room that is used as the chapel of the shelter. Two of the group, Stephanie Morris and Jay Williams, were inspired to paint a portrait of Our Lady with migrants. It was a true Pentecost experience when, during the blessing of the renovated chapel, volunteers and refugees from many different countries said the “Our Father” prayer in their native tongues.

Sister Bea Donnelan, SHSP addresses the Maryknoll border immersion group at Casa Vides.

As the “group shepherd” at Encuentro Project, I am able to be a voice for the asylum seekers and share their heart’s desire to have a better life through sustaining themselves in work and practicing their faith. Being a part of the Encuentro Project experience has given me a deeper sense of why I am here in El Paso at this particular time, answering the call to support the cause of asylum seekers. I invite you to come and see.

In June, we closed the Casa Romero building and moved our migrant support work to one of the original buildings of Annunciation House called Casa Vides. The house was named after the Vides family, whose six children were adopted by Ruben Garcia, the founder of Annunciation House, after their parents had been murdered in El Salvador.

Casa Vides is located in the heart of El Paso, near the bridge connecting El Paso to Ciudad Juárez. The smaller size and layout of this shelter allows for closer relations with our guests. The photo shows our second in-person Encuentro group — an immersion trip organized by the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers’ Discipulos Misioneros program — during their visit to Casa Vides. Together with Sister Bea Donnellan (a Sister of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate, who is the director of Casa Vides), we joyfully welcomed the group and were exhilarated to share its history and stories.

From left, Heidi Cerneka, Coralis Salvador, the Fischer family and Debbie Northern

In August, our intentional community was joined by co-lay missioner Debbie Northern. Debbie’s ministry is at Encuentro and at Casa del Refugiado. Prior to El Paso, Debbie’s ministries were in Tanzania, El Salvador and at Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ headquarters in New York.

We also had a visit from Kim and Greg Fischer and their family — returned lay missioners who served in Brazil. We were happy to give them the El Pasoan welcome. Bienvenido a El Paso.

I’m grateful for your participation in our missions. I pray for your health and joy in your daily lives. May our Heavenly Father bless you ever more.

Many thanks,

Coralis Salvador
Coralis is a community volunteer at a shelter for asylum seekers released from ICE or CBP detentions and at “La Tilma” feeding program of Sacred Heart Church in El Paso, Texas. She previously served with Maryknoll Lay Missioners in Kenya for 19 years. She is the co-author of the Orbis book What’s So Blessed About Being Poor?