By Sister Rose Marie Tulacz
About a year ago, the Sisters of Notre Dame began ministering to immigrants at the United States’ border with Mexico. Sister Rose Marie Tulacz was one of four Sisters of Notre Dame who participated in a week-long “Texas Immersion Experience” in Corpus Christi in the spring of 2015. The following is a reflection on that experience written by Sister Rose Marie herself.
We are having a “life-changing” experience, witnessing the desperation of migrants facing deportation, exploitation by the Mexican Mafia and Coyotes; inhumane treatment by border guards; detainment centers run like hard core prisons; subjection to harsh environmental conditions in the desert; separation from loved ones; denial of basic human rights to food, clothing, and health; and in some situations, death. Refugees and asylum-seekers are from Ethiopia, Somalia, Honduras, and Central America, Mexico and beyond.
In a Gospel spirit of service and solidarity we are accompanying the migrant, homeless and economically vulnerable people of the border through presence, hospitality and service. What a privilege to work alongside faith-based volunteers and human rights advocates in compassionate presence and in providing daily assistance and shelter for the traumatized men, women, children, and infants with no other possessions than the tattered clothing and shoes they are wearing. Just being in their presence opens us to conversion. We ourselves have become evangelized through them.
Our primary task on the journey is to open our hearts, listen and try to be compassionate, in other words, to deeply allow us to “see” as Jesus sees. Immersion is a window through which we see the world in new ways in light of the gospel. It forces us beyond our comfort zones, invites us to grow and opens up new possibilities for graced transformation. We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen each day. The rules and norms of one’s culture may not all be useful and may block the experience. People worldwide live and think differently and that is a positive thing. The border is a place of encounter; it becomes a place where we can share life with people of different spiritual and economic levels, who speak a different language, who have distinct ways of thinking and living. Pope Francis in speaking of a theology of encounter reminds us that encounter is a place for breaking down the walls that divide.
I am grateful for the grace to respond to the call to come to the border and be unsettled by truth. I am grateful that despite the often-painful topics and emotional encounters, I see Jesus in the volunteers, the sisters, and the immigrants. My faith has grown stronger in a God bigger than the absurdity around us. Faithfulness to God means recognizing the Imago Dei in each and every human person regardless of status. The gift I received at the border is not pity for the poor, but a deeper solidarity and embrace of the beauty and mystery of a shared birthright and dignity of oneness in Jesus in the Father.
This article was featured in the Fall 2015 issue of Vision & Challenge.