Signs of hope amid the darkness - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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December 2022 newsletter


Debbie Northern, U.S.-Mexico Border

With the staff of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns and the Orientation team at the Maryknoll “Cloister”

Dear friends and family,

They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
one nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.
O house of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the Lord! (Isaiah 2:4-5)

The Advent wreath at the Maryknoll Sisters

During this Advent season, we look for signs of hope amid the darkness. This is often difficult, as we tend to focus on the negative and the news is full of war, shootings and hatred. But if we look carefully around us, there is joy and hope.

One sign of hope for me is the four new lay missioner candidates that I have been accompanying in Orientation. To me they are a sign that there are people who feel called to “live, love and work with communities on the margins….” An additional component of joy for this class is that one of the couples has three children, who are 12, 10 and 8 years of age. Their energy and enthusiasm offer us the possibility to look at the world through the eyes of a child. Jesus was given such a perspective by being born as a child, and we need the same acceptance and awe that children have.

Another sign of hope for me is the repeal of Title 42 and the Migrant Protection Protocols (Remain in Mexico policy) that prohibited migrants from seeking asylum in the United States and kept them in unsafe conditions in Mexico. Our immigration policies are outdated and broken. Hopefully, the influx of migrants will impel our leaders to enact humane immigration policies and guest worker programs, instead of demonizing those fleeing violence and oppression.

During the Christmas season throughout Latin America, parishes and communities celebrate las posadas, the reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging in Bethlehem. “Mary” and “Joseph” travel from house to house asking for shelter but are turned away. Finally, they come to a house that recognizes them and lets them (and the community) in, and a celebration takes place.

In El Paso, I see the migrants coming to the U.S. as modern-day Marys and Josephs trying to find a safe haven, but being repeatedly turned away by policies and politics that do not respect human rights or our call as Christians to love our neighbors.

Being back in New York this fall has allowed me to reconnect with friends, as well as with some of the Maryknoll Sisters, Priests and Brothers. We have eaten lunch twice a week with the Priests and Brothers, and our candidates have had the opportunity to meet such dedicated missioners who spent most of their lives serving people on the margins.

During this Advent Season, please keep all of our missioners in your prayers, especially in troubled parts of the world like Haiti, South Sudan and El Salvador. And pray for our new missioners as they begin their journey of service with Maryknoll Lay Missioners. Pray that the light of Christ may illuminate the darkness and hatred of the world so that we may see each other as children of God and brothers and sisters.

I return to El Paso at the beginning of January. If your parish or other group has interest in an immersion trip to the border to learn more about immigration, please contact me at

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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.