Jesuit Father Sean Carroll offers Communion during Mass at the Kino Border Initiative's Aid Center for Deported Migrants in Nogales, Mexico. (Photo by Larry Hanelin)

Moments of Consolation and Desolation: Jesuit Provincials at the Border

By Becky Sindelar

March 19, 2015 — Jesuit Father Sean Carroll, executive director of a bi-national ministry that accompanies migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, says the experience of walking across the border is extremely powerful: “You read about it, you hear about it, but the reality of walking across the border is very impactful.” Last month, Jesuit provincials from Canada, the United States, Central America and Mexico found that out for themselves when they visited Fr. Carroll’s ministry, the Kino Border Initiative (KBI), in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.

After walking across the border into Mexico from Nogales, Arizona, on Feb. 8, the provincials celebrated Mass with migrants at the KBI’s outreach center in Nogales, Mexico. The group, which included staff members from the province offices, also shared a meal and spent time talking with the people the organization has been serving and accompanying since its founding in 2009.

Jesuit Father Scott Santarosa, provincial of the Oregon Province Jesuits, talks with a migrant in the KBI dining hall. (Photo by Larry Hanelin)

“It was very moving to see firsthand this important ministry to those who have been deported,” said Jesuit Father Brian Paulson, provincial of the Chicago-Detroit Province Jesuits.

The KBI has been working to make humane, just migration between the U.S. and Mexico a reality for the past six years. As part of its mission, the KBI assists and accompanies immigrants at the border, as well as educates communities on both sides of the border and advocates for just immigration policies. Last year the KBI served around 38,000 meals at its Aid Center for Deported Migrants in Nogales, Mexico.

Fr. Carroll says the work is both a blessing and a challenge. “It’s an extraordinary blessing to be an organization that links people from both sides of the border and helps them respond to this reality,” he adds.

When groups — whether it’s Jesuit provincials, college or high school students or parishioners — visit the KBI, they get to experience an issue that previously they may have only heard about. “They go back to their towns and cities and share what they’ve seen and learned about this issue and what they experienced on the border. It’s been wonderful to see that development take place,” Fr. Carroll says.

“We like getting people down here, because from our experience, actually coming to the border, dialoguing with the people we serve and speaking with other people involved in this reality has a significant impact. People leave with a different perspective,” he says.

Migrants attended Mass at the KBI with Jesuit provincials from the U.S., Canada, Central America and Mexico. (Photo by Larry Hanelin)

One such group, high school students from Lourdes Catholic School in Nogales, Arizona, reached out to Pope Francis last year to share their experiences through letters and a video and invited the pope to visit the border. In December, Fr. Carroll and the teens received a response from Pope Francis.

To receive a letter from Pope Francis and to see how supportive he was of our work and how much our letters and words touched his heart was powerful for me,” Fr. Carroll says. “And I think his letter has been a great encouragement for us and these young people to continue to work in these areas on the border.”

Marian Enriquez is one of the high school students from Lourdes Catholic School who volunteers at the KBI. Pope Francis wrote a letter encouraging the teens in their work for migrants. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

In his letter, Pope Francis wrote: “These young people — who have come to learn how to strive against the propagation of stereotypes, from people who only see in immigration a source of illegality, social conflict and violence — can contribute much to show the world a church without borders.”

Pope Francis also asked the students “not to tire in their labor of edifying love of others and [their] embrace against discrimination and exclusion.”

The group of Jesuit provincials and staff from Canada and the United States at the KBI.

According to Fr. Carroll, accompaniment is a major part of what the KBI does, and it informs the other areas of their work, which includes creating educational programs for youth, advocating for more just immigration and deportation policies and running a shelter for migrant women and children.

“We are present to the migrants, and we walk with them and support them. Part of the accompaniment is increasing awareness to visiting groups about this lived reality and what our faith has to say about it and to promote policies that respect the dignity of the human person,” Fr. Carroll says.

Fr. Carroll notes that the KBI has developed over the years by cooperating with God’s movement, taking advantage of opportunities or responding to certain needs. For instance, Sr. Alicia Guevara Perez, a KBI staff member and a Missionary Sister of the Eucharist, recently helped the women in the KBI’s shelter form a cooperative where they make woven bracelets and rosaries to sell.

Some of the money from the sales is invested to buy more materials, but the women also receive some, so when they leave the shelter they have money they’ve earned. “It’s really starting to grow and it’s great to see the effect it’s having on the women we serve in our shelter,” Fr. Carroll says of the cooperative.

As Fr. Carroll reflects on his work with the KBI, he summarizes it as “moments of consolation and moments of desolation and yet God is present through it all.”

Fr. Carroll leads a prayer at the comedor, the kitchen and dining hall of the KBI's Aid Center for Deported Migrants in Nogales, Mexico.

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