Sr. Lelia "Lil" Mattingly reflects on the challenging times facing asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border in light of this week's Gospel reading of the loaves and fishes.
This Gospel reading speaks to me of the “helplessness” I have been feeling for a while now.
In this Gospel, after being sought out by the crowds, Jesus was “moved with pity and cured their sick.” The disciples, supposedly, were also moved with pity and in the evening, asked Jesus to dismiss the people so they could go to the villages to buy food.
However, Jesus replied, “give them food yourselves.” The disciples only had five loaves and two fish; they thought that there was no way they could provide for so many!
This is where the “helplessness” comes in. Imagine the confusion of the disciples on hearing Jesus’ words… utter disbelief, I would imagine.
How does this relate to my reality where I live on the U.S.-Mexico border? After four years of being a volunteer trying to care for the refugees arriving to seek asylum and an escape from the oppression, poverty, gang and drug violence in their countries, we are now so confused, not by Jesus’ words, but the U.S. government’s laws and restrictions limiting and preventing the refugees from entering the U.S. We know this is illegal and against international law, and against our own history and laws of the USA.
If it hadn’t been for Jesus’ compassion and miraculous power, there would have been no solution to the confusion and “helplessness” of the disciples.
But, as St. Teresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the Eyes through which He looks compassion on this world.”
Those of us working here on the border with the refugees – the distraught, the tired and hungry, the persecuted – we feel we have been witnesses, like the disciples, to the miraculous power of Jesus inspiring the wonderful and generous people of El Paso, and others who have come here or sent donations, to give food to the hungry and desperate refugees. Not only food, but clothing, shoes, and help of every kind so that they can contact family members, shower, sleep, then travel to their family and sponsors to find safety in the U.S. That has been the marvelous history of this country!
But all that has changed, unfortunately. Little by little, new harsh and horrible laws and “policies” began to flow from our government to cause separation of children from their parents, forced detention in prison-like conditions, and the eventual refusal to allow any of the refugees to enter the U.S. for a legitimate hearing of their pleas for asylum.
Early in 2019 the MPP (Migrant Protection Protocols) gave no protection to the refugees, but rather denied entry to thousands of the asylum seekers and their children who were made to return and wait on the Mexico side of the border until their number would be called to appear for a hearing in El Paso. This very complicated and cruel process unfortunately usually ended in denial of their asylum claims.
The consequences have been tragic, as the coronavirus has struck our area – including where people are gathered in large groups, in shelters or camps on the Mexico side of the border, where cleanliness and social distancing are impossible. The danger of becoming infected with the coronavirus is extremely and dangerously high for these migrants.
As the crowds of people who followed to hear Jesus speak were “hungry” for his words of love and compassion, at times he also challenged the unjust authoritarian policies of their day, so they could feel understood, and empowered.
Jesus could show the “helpless” disciples how to break bread and to share among the hungry people. So, today, how can we overcome the feelings of helplessness from authoritarian policies which are hurting people we have come to know and love, and stay with them in their pain ?
Like in the time of Jesus, the people put their trust in God and Jesus’ words. So often we heard the refugees express that they set out to escape threats and danger, and we saw that they came with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, yet they would say they knew God would provide. It was their strong faith that compelled them to risk the journey.
We, too, who feel stripped of power to do anything at this point, we put our trust in God, to provide for the people who are desperately seeking safety… “Into your hands, O God, we commit our spirits… help us to be your hands, your feet, your eyes.”