Religious men and women and a host of volunteers minister to deported migrants at an aid center located just over the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Sonora.
The comedor run by the Kino Border Initiative, serves more than 4,000 meals each month. Its workers also provide first aid and other assistance to migrants and operate a shelter for women and children at a nearby apartment. Through one of its programs, Kino Teens, high school students who crisscross the border almost daily for school are connected in various ways to migrants.
On assignment for Catholic News Service the week of Christmas, I made my third visit to the comedor. I followed migrant advocates as they made their way along the border for the Christmastime posada, a Mexican traditional reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter before the birth of Christ.
Kino Teens, dressed as the holy couple and their guiding angel, led the group from the DeConcini Port of Entry to the migrant aid center just outside the Mariposa border crossing.
During their walk participants reflected on the stories of those fleeing violence and other hardships in their home countries.
In one instance, Angelica Quechol wept for her children as she told of her Arizona workplace being raided by sheriff’s deputies. She was jailed and then deported, separated from her husband and 11- and 18-year-old sons. She had fled Mexico with her infant son 16 years earlier.
“They took away our spirit,” she said of her detention. “You feel like you can do nothing. It’s not easy being separated from your children and your family.”
Along the posada walk, prayers were said and songs were sung, all asking the Lord for mercy upon those who struggle to find hope and joy.
Eventually the donkey carrying Mary arrived at the comedor and a song of welcome rang out from the crowd.
“Entren santos peregrinos, pereginas a nuestra pobre masión. Ofrecemos acogerles y servirles con sincero corazón.” (“Come in travelers, come in to our humble home. Welcome! How may we serve with sincere hearts?”)
A group of mostly men, but also some women and children, were seated at long tables inside the dining hall. It was already packed with people, but the posada group squeezed in.
Among the visitors were Bishop Jose Leopoldo González González of the newly created Diocese of Nogales, Sonora, and Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, a member of CLINIC’s board of directors. Their dioceses include the area of “ambos Nogales,” the separated U.S. and Mexican cities of Nogales. Diocesan social service agencies on both sides of the border have long participated in joint programs around immigration and migrants’ needs.
Every visit to the comedor brings a new version of the New Testament story of Mary and Martha. This night was no exception.
One of the bishops took a seat at a table, chatting with a group of migrant men and sharing a meal. The other bishop greeted those at the tables, but then grabbed a pitcher of juice and started pouring drinks.
The same was true of the volunteers. Some mingled with the guests as others bustled about, making sure there was enough salsa, that everyone got a second helping, that dessert and little care packages were distributed.
There were Marys and Marthas everywhere!
The story appeals to me because it’s perplexing. Christ ends up telling the busy, hospitable Mary that Martha has chosen the “better part,” sitting down to listen to him.
After leaving the “comedor,” I had a long wait to pass through the U.S. immigration checkpoint. Being Christmas week, there was a great deal of foot traffic at the border.
As I stood in line, I pondered: With so much work to do, have I listened to the word? Have I looked into another’s eyes and heard her story? Am I letting anxiety get the best of me in this super hyped-up world, especially at Christmas?
I made it through the U.S. immigration line and took a deep breath. It was time to stop and see Christ.
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Nancy Wiechec is a freelance writer and photographer, based in Arizona.