Jeff Odendahl, JPIC
On January 20, five Minnesotans—Sisters Jan Kilian, Gloria Haider and Carolyn Law and two Associates, Garry Dahl and Jeff Odendahl—left relatively moderate winter temperatures to experience 60-70 degree days in the Rio Grande Valley of southern Texas. We were met at the airport by fellow travel companion, Associate Rosanne Fischer and Sister Pat Forster. At “Casa McAllen” we were greeted by the remainder of our host sisters, Mary Hroscikoski, Shirley Mueller and Anita Jennissen. On January 20, five Minnesotans—Sisters Jan Kilian, Gloria Haider and Carolyn Law and two Associates, Garry Dahl and Jeff Odendahl—left relatively moderate winter temperatures to experience 60-70 degree days in the Rio Grande Valley of southern Texas. We were met at the airport by fellow travel companion, Associate Rosanne Fischer and Sister Pat Forster. At “Casa McAllen” we were greeted by the remainder of our host sisters, Mary Hroscikoski, Shirley Mueller and Anita Jennissen.
We didn’t have long to chat, though, as we were soon into our “Border Immersion Experience.” This began with a Mass in Spanish at Los Ebanos, where we received a blessing from the entire congregation. In the brief twilight following the Mass, we had our first view of “El Rio,” and felt the strong presence of Border Patrol as we witnessed an “unmanned” control tower and saw Border Patrol vehicles at almost every turn in the road.
Sunday morning found us exploring some of the natural phenomena of the region, once again always under the watchful eye of the U.S. Border Patrol. Our first stop was at the small Chapel of La Lomita where we had the good fortune to cross paths with a federal district court judge who shared his impressions of the area. After this, it was on to a short visit to Bentsen State Park and then on to the Montezuma Tree, a 900-year-old cypress that rests in silent witness to the border wall that overshadows it. Thinking of the joys and sorrows this ancient tree has witnessed gave us a sense of the long and challenging history of this area along the border. challenging history of this area along the border.
Our group spent Monday and Tuesday with an organization called ARISE. ARISE’s mission is to aid communities by helping residents identify life goals and providing resources to help them reach those goals on their own. They also work with many other organizations to help provide justice for immigrant peoples. They are fond of saying that ARISE does not do for the people what the people can do for themselves.
Under the guidance of ARISE’s Ramona and Mary Cruz, we learned about the goals of ARISE and visited many of their partner agencies in the valley. Our first stop was at the Respite Center where several of our sisters have previously worked. Here we met and listened to the stories of four immigrants who had recently arrived from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. It was hard to listen to their stories, knowing the part we play in the difficulties they have experienced. The spirit was alive in these folks, but there was plenty of hurt, sorrow and uncertainty working to undermine that spirit.
Other experiences included visiting a center for worker rights, Fuerza del Valle, visiting with diocesan personnel who work with those who are detained or imprisoned, a farmworkers’ union called LUPE and a center that employs young attorneys who represent the interests of unaccompanied minors in the detention system. All of this was capped by home visits to members of the local community, and the very rich experience of eating and talking with the immigrant women who volunteer at the ARISE center.
Our trip was a project of the FSLF Immigration Committee, an effort to create an immersion program that will allow participants to experience life along our southern border, meeting real people and listening to their stories. We plan to share our story through Enlunchments or other meetings at the Convent, and to let you know more about the work of this committee. We also plan to open this experience to others in our community. We all returned home with a new appreciation for the gifts we have as U.S. citizens and the obligation that places on us as stewards for the common good of all, but especially those who suffer, at least in part, because of our way of life.
At La Lomita mission: (L to R) Sisters Shirley Mueller, Gloria Haider, Pat Forster, Carolyn Law, Jan Kilian
and Mary Hroscikoski; Garry Dahl and Jeff Odendahl. (Photo submitted by Associate Rosanne Fischer, who also traveled from Minnesota to take part in the immersion experience.)