I often take the gift of my faith for granted. It is not until I am met with some struggle or challenge that I truly reflect on the place of faith in my life. Then, caught short, I begin to reflect on this gift, on God’s unfailing presence and unconditional love. Our refugee brothers and sisters call me to renew my own faith and to appreciate more deeply this gift of God’s abiding presence.
A recent trip to McAllen, Texas to volunteer at a respite center administered by Catholic Charities provided an opportunity to reflect on caravans, refugees, faith, courage and tenacity. Stories of a caravan seem to fill our newspapers and airways these days. Would Jesus and his followers be called such in our society? A group of ragtag fishermen, perhaps a tax collector, some women and a few others traversed the countryside delivering a message to those who had “ears to hear.”
Refugee families arrive at the center after having been processed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), each burdened by a large black ankle bracelet monitor. Children grasp the hands of adults or older siblings, their gazes often reflecting fear and pain. Our welcome greetings of “buenos dias” and “bienvenidos” are unbelievably welcomed by smiles and often hugs.
Courage is evident in the journeying families, who arrive here and still have so much more traveling to do before they are connected to family or friends who are scattered throughout the United States. They believe in possibilities and are willing to risk all to achieve shelter and safety for their families. Their faith is not based on secular hopes, but rather in a deep belief that God has traveled this far with them and will not abandon them now. They are not afraid to express this faith. In the face of uncertainty, such conviction is humbling to witness.
Early one morning, I arrived at the center to an overflowing crowd of 200 or more refugees packed wall-to-wall at makeshift tables eating breakfast. I greeted them and quickly started making sandwiches for their next journey to join family members. Over 200 sandwiches were needed and I was anxious to begin. Focused on my work and the need for speed, I felt a twinge of annoyance when someone knocked on the door and bid me come into the dining area. Reluctantly, I did so.
What I saw will remain with me forever! All our guests were sitting in complete silence, heads bowed, as a woman at the microphone prayed aloud amid the quiet mumblings of affirmation coming from those who were seated. Then a small boy took the mike and continued the prayer until someone in the group began singing: “Alabaré, alabaré, alabaré, a mi, Señor” (“I will praise, I will praise, I will praise you, O Lord”). Grateful that I was familiar with the song, I joined in as tears filled my eyes. What a testament to a deep and abiding faith in our Lord! I will forever be grateful for this witness.
What does the presence of caravans and refugees call us to as the people of God? It is unlikely that many will travel to the border to accompany those who are arriving. Yet each of us, no matter where we are, has the capacity to pray. We can raise our voices to a God who always accompanies his people — our prayer that God will shelter and protect these families, our prayer that those encountering these families will be touched with mercy and compassion, our prayer that our own hearts will always be open to welcoming the stranger.
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