By Michael Rossmann
A question I try to ask myself during my daily reflection is whether I am letting enough of the world into my life.
I believe that our theology is very much affected by what we see outside our bedroom windows and by the people we allow into our hearts. The well-known words from the opening of a Vatican II document describe how the joys and anguish of humanity, especially the poor, are the joys and anguish of all followers of Christ.
Admittedly, the amount of the world that I allow into my life can be quite limited when I am locked in the library writing papers for graduate school. I am spending the summer on the U.S.-Mexico border, however, and it is a situation where one cannot help but encounter the beauty of humanity amidst all sorts of complicated questions and heartbreaking stories.
Before the most recent worldwide congregation of Jesuits, Pope Benedict encouraged us to “build bridges of understanding and dialogue” — a mission I have tried to take to heart. I am often amazed at how I find myself in the most varied of situations. During my “pilgrimage” experience — in which we were given $35, a one-way bus ticket, and instructions to return to Minnesota after a month — I left the shelter in Tijuana where I had been working and through a series of invitations found myself sipping wine and watching the sunset at a mansion on the beach in California later that same day. The next week, I visited a day shelter for the homeless and then hours later somehow had dinner with the owner of an NFL team.
This summer, I left Chicago and my university bubble and am currently working in a soup kitchen that is the first building encountered by immigrants deported from the U.S. through Nogales, Mexico. We serve over 150 meals a day to migrants, some of whom have recently tried to cross the desert despite scorching summer heat and others who have lived the majority of their lives in the United States. One young man I befriended was brought to the U.S. when he was 3 years old and is now in a country he hardly even remembers and in a city that is completely unfamiliar. Some have just been separated from family in the U.S., including their children who may be U.S. citizens, and some are now preparing to return to their families in other parts of Mexico.
After hearing stories of family separation and near-death experiences in the desert — and imagining the harsh conditions faced by many that make them feel as if leaving their homes to make this dangerous journey is their only option — I and the other Jesuits with whom I am living will often share the stories we have heard and carry the migrants in prayer while ending each day with Mass. Of course, migrants are not the only ones whose lives are affected by complicated border realities. I have also talked with people on the U.S. side about the escalating danger due to drug cartels, the need for a safe and secure border, and the strain on public services. There are no easy answers to issues of immigration.
Before each meal at the soup kitchen, a priest or Sister will lead the migrants in a prayer that always includes an Our Father. As I pray hágase tu voluntad — your will be done — I cannot help but look around at these migrants. Many have tried to come to the U.S. to work because they see it as the only viable way to put food on the table for their families, but a country has a need to reasonably regulate its borders as well. I do not know what God’s will is for this complicated border reality, but I pray that it be done.
The same recent Jesuit congregation that Pope Benedict addressed described our “broken but lovable world.” The indefatigable human spirit amidst much brokenness is on display in a concentrated way along the border, which can serve as a reminder to carry with us the “joys and hopes, grief and anguish” of the people of God in whatever situation we may find ourselves.
(Michael Rossmann is a Jesuit scholastic at Loyola University Chicago and a 2003 graduate of Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City. He can be contacted at email@example.com).