May 31, 2013
Students Visit U.S.-Mexican Border
CUA students walk along the border fence.
With the sand of the Sonoran Desert under their feet, rising senior Amanda Ceraldi and four other Catholic University students walked in 90-degree heat last week along the chain-link fence that separates the United States from Mexico. From the U.S. side of the fence, they could see homes in the city of Juarez, Mexico.
Curious children from Juarez approached the fence as the CUA students prepared to participate in Mass there. At that moment, Ceraldi, a theology major from Pasadena, Md., and one of the trip's student leaders, says she realized that "we all have a place at the table. A fence separated us, but these children were no different than we are. It really helped me to understand the Eucharist."
The Mass was part of a new weeklong University mission trip — Immersion on the Border: A Formation Experience in Catholic Social Teaching. The students and Sister Ruth Harkins, I.H.M., religious in residence and a doctoral student in theology and religious studies at CUA, traveled to El Paso earlier this month and stayed at the Columban Mission Center run by the Missionary Society of St. Columban.
As part of a collaboration with the center, the students visited El Paso area institutions that serve the migrant population. They also explored the Church's response to human rights, immigration policy, sustainability, and environmental issues. This fall the students will organize a couple of educational workshops based on their experience for the CUA community.
Catholic University Trustee Stephen Kaneb and his wife, Andrea, who support social justice causes, provided funding for the trip.
Sister Ruth and the students arrived in El Paso on Pentecost Sunday. Their first stop was a detention center in New Mexico for runaway orphans from Mexico, Peru, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The CUA students sang and played with the children and participated in a Bible study class.
That night, while reflecting with the students on the day's events, Sister Ruth says she noted that the orphans spoke different languages like the apostles in the Pentecost story who were filled with the Holy Spirit and talked in a variety of tongues.
Students volunteer in the kitchen at Sacred Heart Church in El Paso.
"Pentecost is the birthday of the Church," says Sister Ruth. "Even though they may speak different languages, all who receive the gift of the Holy Spirit are part of God's family. I wanted the students to see how we're all connected to each other."
On another day the students visited El Paso's Sacred Heart Church, which runs an inexpensive Mexican restaurant called Sagrado Corazón Tortilleria & Grill in the parish gym. The students peeled carrots and potatoes and made cornbread and salsa that would be sold at the restaurant.
They also visited the city's Opportunity Center for the Homeless, which provides food and lodging as well as medical, mental health, employment, and educational services. The CUA students prepared food and served it to the center's clients.
"It was an amazing experience to talk to the people who work there and to serve the men who go there," says Ceraldi, who hopes to work for a mission agency one day. "There was a feeling of mutual respect. We were serving them and they were serving us."
"It was a transformational experience for everyone on the trip," says Sister Ruth. "The principles of Catholic social teaching took on a whole new meaning as the students really began to see them in action."