Fr. Kevin Clinton — AUSCP San Diego Assembly participant
I have heard Pope Francis urging us to resist being “self-referential” and be a church that “goes out to the margins”. I had the experience of doing that at the end of the 2023 San Diego Assembly on Thursday afternoon June 15th . Twenty-two of us participated in this optional Assembly event.
We toured the San Diego Catholic Charities center which occupies a hotel used by the State of California to process asylum refugees. The San Diego Catholic Charities creates the administration, the services, and manages the staff and volunteers that address the challenges.
Every day new people arrive having abandoned their homeland and made the dangerous journey north. Some days there are over 100 women, children and men arriving at the facility. Fleeing their homeland often on foot for 100s of miles, there are basic human unmet needs.
The center addresses food, clothing, hygiene, medical and shelter needs. A common medical need is blisters on the feet and the need for rest. Part of the process is connecting them to a sponsoring entity (often a family) somewhere in the US. They then leave for that destination.
While the 22 of us were asked not to engage in conversations with the center’s clients, we were among the children, women and men being assisted by Catholic Charities. While seeing and hearing a brief newsclip about the “goings-on” at the US border is one thing, it is entirely another to be immersed in the human reality of these exiled people.
What touched me was the skills of the staff and volunteers addressing the challenges. I anticipated they’re being overwhelmed by the numbers and the desperation of people without a home or country. Things were well organized. There was a joyful attitude that energized the hard work required to address people in life crisis. I was grateful that my church community had engaged and organized “missionary disciples without borders”. It is a “catholic” thing to do. I saw the “joy of the Gospel” on their faces.
Following our visit to the Catholic Charities processing center, we journeyed to the border, went thru Mexican customs, and entered Tijuana, Mexico. Tijuana is larger than San Diego. There are 2,000 murders/year in this city with much desperation, poverty, and crime. The 22 of us took five taxis to “Pueblo En Camino”— a house for migrants.
The Casa Del Migrante EnTijuana has been operating for 36 years and is a ministry of the “Fathers of St. Charles-Casa Del Migrante.” Fr. Pat Murphy, C.S has been the Director for the past 7 years. The staff and volunteers provide a safe space for all those migrants who leave their countries for different reasons. In 2022 it served 1,261 people from 19 different nationalities: each with specific needs.
The migrants come to the Casa having experienced: checkpoints, walls, patrols, extreme weather conditions, confusing applications. When Fr. Pat was asked what we should say to the people we meet in our US places of origin, he said: “Tell them that the over whelming numbers of people are fleeing the environment of drug cartels who order them to abandon their homes so the cartel can occupy them, or parents fear their children will be recruited into the ‘cartel industry’ of producing and trafficking drugs.” In many of these areas there is no acting “government.” The cartel is the “government”, and they practice capital punishment!
Fr. Pat also said that climate change is causing the production of coffee to fail. Coffee plants are sensitive to changes in rainfall and temperature. Families can’t make a living — unless they agree to grow and harvest the plant used to produce cocaine. So, they flee.
The 22 of us ate a meal with the Casa Del Migrante residents—again with were with women, men and young children — some being held by their mothers and dads. We sat in a circle with Fr. Pat and his administrative assistant–a young woman born in Mexico City. Again, the staff and volunteers were similar in skill and positive attitude to the folks we met in the San Diego center. We again met “missionary disciples without borders”. We witnessed the mission of the church powerfully present “at the margins.”
We took the 5 taxis back to the US border customs and experienced a more detailed scrutiny re-entering the US. In the next 24 hours I would get on a non-stop flight back to Minnesota, pay $100 to get my car out of the Park & Ride, stop at the grocery store and choose my five different flavors of yogurt and go home to my air-conditioned living space and my comfortable bed.
I had no blisters on my feet. There was a roof over my head and a place for my comfortable bed. When I spoke to my next-door neighbor about my San Diego and Tijuana experiences, he was silent and then said, he didn’t like people coming into the country “unless they had papers.” I realized again how easy it is to become “self-referential.”