Read About Recent Trips
BVM Outreach Group Joins Franciscans in Service
On Saturday, March 1, BVM volunteers participated in a morning of service, sharing and hospitality at the Mission of Our Lady of Angels in Chicago.
The Mission of Our Lady of Angels, the apostolate of the Franciscans of the Eucharist, serves the poor on the west side of Chicago. On the first Saturday of every month, with donations from the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the Mission hosts an outdoor, mobile food pantry, providing food and clothing to local families.
The participants joined the Franciscan community and other volunteers to re-package food and distribute it to the clients, assist them in collecting and carrying their food items, and hand out clothing donations. About 150 individuals and families were served.
After the morning of service, the group was welcomed by the Franciscan community and gathered in Our Lady of Angels Convent for a time of reflection and sharing. Fr. Bob Lombardo thanked the volunteers, recognizing the spiritual bond flowing through Our Lady of Angels, connecting their Franciscan community with the BVMs.
The group was grateful for the opportunity to see the face of Christ in all who gathered to serve and be served at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels. Participants included Peggy Geraghty, Nancy McCarthy, Carol Cook, Dodie Dwight, Carol Spiegel, Gwen Farry, Diane O’Donnell, BVM Novice Sharon Rezmer, Associate Sylvia Martinez and Tricia Lothschutz.
Walking in Their Shoes
Arizona Immigration Immersion Trip
It is said that in order to really understand someone, you need to “walk a mile in their shoes.” After spending a week at the Arizona-Mexico border, immersed in the lives of migrants and deportees and the challenges they face, I am still searching for the words to fully describe the devastating reality of the “shoes” in which they walk.
October 16-21, myself and eleven other BVMs, Associates and Friends: Linda Carstens; Ed Feuerbacher; Doug and Barbara Harper; Mary Martens, BVM; Mary McCauley, BVM; Kathleen McGrath, BVM; Mike and Mary McGillicuddy; Mira Mosle, BVM; and Lori Ritz, participated in an Immigration Immersion Experience, led by West Cosgrove, Director of Education at the Kino Border Initiative.
Kino Border Initiative (KBI), a bi-national organization located in Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, works to promote U.S./Mexico border and immigration policies that affirm the dignity of the human person. In 2012 alone, KBI served 58,640 meals to migrant men, women and children at their Aid Center for Deported Migrants in Nogales, Mexico; they hosted 302 women and children in their women’s shelter, Nazareth House, to protect them from the threat of abuse and exploitation; and they provided first aid to 2,442 people. In addition to their direct humanitarian aid, KBI is also active in advocacy, and education. The educational aspect includes hosting groups, such as ours, in order to bring awareness to the border reality and how to respond effectively and with great compassion.
Our immersion experience began with a walk in the desert; a walk in the footsteps of the migrants who desperately cross the border into the United States, facing the harsh conditions of the desert: hot days, cold nights, little food or water, and face the risk of being caught, detained and deported by the U.S. Border Patrol, all for the chance at a better life for their families. We were led on our desert walk by a woman who is part of the Samaritans, an organization that brings food, water and first aid to migrants in the desert. She took us down an embankment, under the overpass, a place where migrants frequently hide until nightfall, trying to get to safety. There we saw items left behind by migrants: a pair of shoes, bags, pants, water bottles, all evidence of the lives that had passed through this spot. I tried to imagine the fear and pain of those who had passed through here before us, and the desperate circumstances that must have led them to this moment. Certainly no one would willingly choose this for themselves, unless there were no other options.
After our time in the desert, we made our way back up to our vehicles. As we ascended the embankment, we quickly became aware of the presence of two Border Patrol vehicles, waiting for us. They had received a call about a group of migrants. Upon seeing that we were not at all a group of migrants, they moved along. This encounter, however, left a deep impression—it was truly an immersion into the reality of the migrants’ experience: After going through so much to get through the desert, just like that, it would have all been over. We, however, were able to get in our own vehicles and drive away. Undocumented migrants who are caught do not have that option; they would be detained, potentially face criminal charges and jail time, and after all of that, be deported back to where they started.
That afternoon, we went to the Tucson, Arizona Federal Court and observed the Operation Streamline proceedings. The Operation Streamline program orders federal criminal charges for every person who crosses the border illegally. It is a border enforcement process that forces undocumented migrants through the federal criminal justice system and into U.S. prisons. In a little over an hour, nearly 70 undocumented individuals, handcuffed and shackled, stood before the judge in groups of five, pled guilty to the misdemeanor charge of illegal entry into the United States, and were sentenced anywhere from 30-180 days in prison, with immediate deportation after their time is served. Immediately after their sentence was pronounced, they were led away, distant looks displayed across their worn and weary faces. These men now fill part of the quota, known as the “bed mandate,” which requires the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to keep 34,000 immigrant detainees, per day, in custody.
During our immersion experience we were also able to spend time on the Mexican side of the border, hearing the personal stories of migrants and recent deportees. We visited the women staying in the Nazareth House women’s shelter and listened to their heartbreaking stories of poverty, desperation, abuse, and separation from their families. We also helped serve a meal at the Kino Border Initiative Aid Center (the Comedor). The Comedor is a small space, filled with four long picnic tables, a small kitchen, sinks for doing dishes, and two one stall bathrooms which also are lined with shelves which hold clothes for the migrants who need them. Two times a day, every day, KBI serves meals to migrants and deportees. They truly respond to the Gospel mandate to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger. Each and every person was greeted and treated with dignity, love, and compassion while at the Comedor. These men and women were so grateful to be fed, and to be in a safe place, even if only for a short time. Despite their hardship, somehow they still hold on to hope—hope that they will be reunited with their family, that they will find work to provide for them, that life will be better.
West Cosgrove, KBI Director of Education and our immersion guide, told us that the immigration debate going on in the United States is really a debate about us (the U.S.): Who do we, as a people, want to be? While at the Comedor on our last day in Mexico, I met Daniel. Daniel was reserved and hesitant to talk, but the other men at the table helped him tell his story. He had been caught in the desert on his first attempt at crossing the border and had served two months in prison. When we met him, he had just been deported after serving his time. As I listened to his story, I imagined him going through everything we had learned about and experienced in our week there, and I knew that I did not want to be part of a people who would let this happen to a fellow human being. Looking at him, heartbroken, all I could say in response was, “Lo siento” (I’m sorry).
This immersion experience challenged all of us to walk differently. We were reminded of our call to use the “shoes” we have been given to bring about good; to embrace the ones forgotten; to be a voice for the voiceless; to welcome the stranger; to liberate, educate, love, and stand up for justice, especially on behalf of the migrant, immigrant and refugee.
— Tricia Lothschutz
Operation Breakthrough: Nearly a Half Century of Changing Lives
Operation Breakthrough: Kansas City, MO
On Oct. 25, BVMs Ann Chaput, Nancy McCarthy and Liz Seaman, Associates Nancy McCarville and Barb Roy, and Tricia Lothschutz spent the day at Operation Breakthrough in Kansas City, Mo. The immersion experience was planned by BVM Berta Sailer and Associate Susie Hope Roling.
After viewing DVDs depiciting the history of the center and showing the many ways the lives of children have been influenced and changed, the group toured the center and had the opportunity to hold and feed the babies. Lunch was shared with some of the mothers at Amethyst Place, a residence for women in recovery and their children.
The afternoon included helping in the food pantry and taking a bus tour. At some of the bus stops, parents would board and share their personal stories of how poverty, addiction or homelessness had affected their lives and families.
The name “Operation Breakthrough” was chosen to signify the desire to break through poverty. Today, some 45 years later, it is still waging the war on poverty while fighting social injustices and providing education to help change lives.
BVMs and associates were joined for supper by Operation Breakthrough staff, a woman assisted by the center, and one of her children. They shared reflections on BVM connections and charism. The next morning the group gathered with Susie Roling’s family at her home for breakfast and to bless her BVM associate commitment.
Nancy McCarville described the experience as “amazing.” The weekend stirred a renewed desire to continue to work for freedom, education, charity and justice.
Service Group Shares Dignity and Joy with Challenged Children
Hills and Dales Service Opportunity
On Saturday, Sept. 21, BVMs Brigid Hart, Irene Lukefahr and Lou Anglin, and Tricia Lothschutz enjoyed an afternoon helping Hills and Dales Residential Center at their Fall Picnic for residents and families. The group did everything from chopping fruit, washing dishes, and running various game stations, to accompanying residents as they enjoyed the festivities.
Hills and Dales is dedicated to building meaningful lives for individuals with disabilities. Everyone in the group was touched and humbled by the profound depth of love and attention given by the staff, volunteers and families in order to bring dignity and joy to the children and young adults in their care.
“It was also heart-breaking to see so many children and young people who face enormous challenges due to their various disabilities,” Irene Lukefahr says, reflecting on her experience. “What touched me the most about the day was seeing the loving, tender and patient care parents, grandparents and staff gave to their loved ones. I could see parents frequently hugging and kissing their children and reminding them over and over again, ‘I love you.’ What a beautiful image of our ever-compassionate God who constantly lavishes love on the vulnerable in our midst, a reminder to me that we are all called to do the same.”
— Tricia Lothschutz
SOA Watch 2014 Reflection
Nov 21-23, 2014, 12 BVMs and friends were among the human rights activists who converged in Fort Benning, GA for the SOA Watch, calling for an end to militarized state violence in the US and abroad.
Participant and BVM Immersion Grant receipient, Jamie Garcia, reflects on her experience:
Before I left, I told my friends and family I was going to Fort Benning, Georgia to participate in a protest. I anticipated that they would not know that the United States had a training facility in Georgia for foreign soldiers, which includes torture methods. However, I was surprised that they did not believe this facility even existed, and were more worried about me being arrested.
I had heard about the School of America (SOA) roughly five years ago and had wanted to participate, but timing was always difficult. Now on the 25th anniversary of the protest, I was able to witness, unite my voice in opposition, and elevate my understanding about the school, immigration, and legislative initiatives.
In addition to the SOA, we protested against the Stewart Detention Center, which is the largest detention center in the United States, and has a 93% deportation rate of immigrants. We walked over 3 miles to and from the detention center with about 1,000 people.
It is hard to put my finger on what was most meaningful to see. I learned so much that I felt like a sponge the entire weekend. Meeting victims of the detention center, walking with others or “praying with our feet” was a new term I heard, and carrying the cross with the name of a “disappeared” child were a few of the events that are etched in my memory.
I feel blessed that I was able to participate, but saddened for the reason we are uniting in opposition.