I come from a family of migrant workers. My grandparents would travel from the Texas border to Wisconsin, Montana and Wyoming during the summer months to work in the fields and work as laborers. My parents would also go up north during their high school years and would assist their families with the work. These stories always intrigued me as it was difficult to grasp in detail what this experience was like. I remember there was a time when I wanted to work in the fields, to get a feel of that type of work, but this thought was quickly discouraged. I was to go to college, get an education and not look back at the family roots that had involved generations of laborers that would travel often to bring bread to the family table.
I had grown up familiar with the idea of migrants but was somewhat detached from the beauty of what it truly means. It was not until early adulthood where I began to see the beauty of my heritage and a desire to delve into becoming integrated into my origins.
I have sensed an interior desire growing up to leave my small town on the border and explore the hot spots, the exciting way of life and to be part of a bigger reality. In a sense I was wanting so hard to leave the environment that I never truly knew and appreciated.
I believe the uncovering of who I am, depends largely on where I come from. The documentary called “Meet the Patels” describes first-hand the struggles and challenges of finding your identity within a culture different than one’s origins. One of the closing sentiments of the documentary is that we must not let our past dictate our future, but allow it to be a guide as to where we are to go.
Recently, I have begun to uncover my roots and as I became aware of the Pope Francis visit to Juarez, Mexico, I felt compelled to be one of the many faces present. I experienced a sense of joy that the Pope would be visiting my backyard. He would be speaking directly to current migrants and immigrants. I felt a desire to be part of his message and enter fully into my identity as a Mexican American.
I was given the privilege to attend the Papal Mass with my friend and to be at the heart of the Pope’s message to the people of the border communities. In anticipation to the Pope’s arrival we sang and danced. We were able to listen to his talks to the prisoners and to the leaders of the community. As the time came for the Pope to arrive at the Chamizal Park our cheers grew louder and we began to chant, “se Ve, se Siente, el Papa está Presente”. As he made his way in front of our section, I felt as if we shared a brief second glance. I began to thank God for inspiring his holy servant to visit us. I began to really enter into the Pope’s message as he says that we should be among the people, to be among those who are the Church. I believe this Pope has gone to places that are stigmatized in a negative light. He has come to the people that probably won’t have an opportunity to travel far distances to see the Pope. He comes to them not to tear them down but to bring them back to life. To remind them of their beautiful origins, and to breathe into them a new spirit of love, hope and joy.
At the Mass the first reading talked about Jonah being sent to preach to a fallen city. And the Gospel was that of Jesus telling the people that no other sign would be given them other than the sign of Jonah. As the Pope gave his homily and addressed the people, I felt as though he was also relaying a similar message to the people of Mexico and the world. He said that the greatest sinner can be converted into the greatest prophet. He identified with the many broken hearts and families in the audience. He voiced his compassion for the people as he said, he felt the sorrows and pain of the people and how they were so great that he himself wanted to cry. Many of the people in the audience cried as the Pope spoke directly of the pain of the people. He stated that we have become numb.
Numb to the violence, numb to our current way of living. He urged the people to love and to reflect on the face of Jesus. To cry to God. To really and truly begin to shed tears for our loved ones and our nation. He mentioned the beauty of tears and how they are essential to the healing of Mexico through the love of the Father.
The Pope left us with a sense of empowerment. A longing to cry for our loved ones, a longing to understand the struggles and pains that affect countless families, including my own, on the results of drug violence and a culture of power and desire to have the type of lifestyle they see on mainstream media. These lifestyles are not seen for what they truly are. They are seductive and have deceived many youth and been a cause for division and numbness.
I pray that the Pope’s message will bring hope. And that the violence present in many parts of the world may be overshadowed by the grace of conversion.
During this time of Lent we are walking through the desert and are thirsty for peace that seems so distant and far away. I believe the Pope’s voice crying out in the desert of Juarez, Mexico invites us personally to a living encounter with Christ. An encounter that permeates all preconceived notions, beliefs and prejudices. An encounter that allows us to be made like children in the presence of God. To truly see him and be witness to his great love for each of us personally.
I believe Pope Francis opens the year of mercy for the Church challenging us to go beyond our comfort zone. In his pilgrimage to Mexico he gives an example, a testimony to not be defined by our boundaries but to go among those who need to hear God’s word most. Even if it is among our own family and backyard. To seek to not hide from a past that we may be ashamed of and to acknowledge our weakness and nothingness. To surrender and let go of our comfort. Comfort of holding on to what we believe to be right and true and to allow God to mold our ideas, to challenge us and even break us during this Lenten season.
Houston Catholic Worker, March-May 2016, Vol. XXXV, No. 2.