PEP Newsletter

Ideas For Your Parish


October 2019

Visiting the Border

                This picture was taken on the bridge over the Rio Grande River that delineates the border between El Paso, TX and Juarez, Mexico.  It shows a long line of people waiting to pass through U.S. customs.  David Shields, SJ and I stood in this line for over an hour on a Saturday morning in early September.  At other times, the line could be much longer.  This was part of a week-long experience of listening, volunteering and learning about the immigration situation on our southern border. 

A Few Impressions

            One day was spent at a shelter in El Paso at which busloads of migrants were dropped off by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel.  These were the lucky ones.  They at least had the name and phone number of a person or group somewhere in the country who would take them in.  As they got off of the buses, they were greeted warmly and their contact information recorded.  They were then given a set of clean clothes, toiletries, blankets and a cot on which to sleep for the night.  This was followed by a shower and a warm meal while their sponsors were called so they could send either a plane or bus ticket to take the migrants to their temporary home.  There they would wait for a court date to plead their case.  At the end of their brief stay in the shelter–24 to 48 hours–they were given sufficient food and drink for the last leg of their journey.  What was impressive was the level of organization necessary to process the people, as well as the patience and good humor of the migrants themselves.

            Another day was spent in Juarez, Mexico where those who had no one to sponsor them were sent back from U.S. customs to await their day in court.  The two of us, along with a group of volunteers from many parts of the U.S., passed out bottles of water, bags of sandwiches, cookies, fruit, toiletries, teddy bears, toys and coloring books for the children, and most importantly, shoe laces.  When the migrants are processed during their brief stay in the U.S., the ICE officers take almost everything the migrants have brought with them, including belts and shoe laces, just as happens to criminals entering prison.  When the migrants return to Juarez, it is easy to spot someone with shoes but no laces.  These are the ones who are prey for drug cartels looking to extort them or force them into servitude.  

A Resource for Parishes

            As a way of providing parishes and organizations with firsthand experience on the southern border, Jesuit Fr. Rafael Garcia, SJ and Marist Brother Todd Patenaude, FMS have founded the Encuentro Project.  This includes, according to their Information Guide, “direct work with asylum seekers, site visits, evening reflection and spiritual accompaniment.”  The project provides a residence and base of operation that can accommodate up to 20 people.  The participants are able to:

  • Encounter and minister to migrants and refugees in shelters, guest houses and local parishes
  • Visit with persons and organizations serving the El Paso and Juarez regions
  • Participate in workshops on Catholic social teachings and border realities
  • Participate in personal and group reflection and daily evening prayer
  • Live in community, either as a short term immersion experience or for a longer term involvement

For more information about the Encuentro Program, email