The El Paso Pilgrimage

On October 9, 70 pilgrims gave up their fall break to bus 1,500 miles to El Paso. They went to the border to protest dehumanizing immigration practices. Some pilgrims also volunteered to go into Ciudad Juárez to accompany an asylum-seeker to the border.

They made the trip to take two actions:

1. Peacefully march and protest.
2. Help families seek asylum by serving as witnesses and translators.

Tension was high. But their actions were impactful.

“The right to migrate, the right to flee, the right to seek safety and opportunity is a fundamental right within the Catholic Social Teaching tradition.”

Video Transcript

Grotto Presents: The El Paso Pilgrimage

Juárez, Mexico

Michael Okińczyc-Cruz: Border Patrol believes that what they’re doing is right, and we are doing what we believe is right.

Genesis Vasquez: I saw the tents, and I saw a lot of people, and I was just overwhelmed because there was just a big bunch of people, and I didn’t know anything about what was going on.

Michael: And so, there will be an encounter; there will be tension. But the beautiful thing about tension is tension is necessary for any change to occur.

Genesis: And I started to cry, like, I don’t know. It was really tough seeing people like that.

(People singing “Santa María del Camino”)

Chicago: The Coalition for Spiritual and Public Leadership is a Chicagoland nonprofit. They organized this pilgrimage to protest dehumanizing immigration practices.

Speaker 1, praying: Form a circle… sisters and brothers who suffer persecution, and upon arrival at our nation’s border.

Speaker 2, continuing prayer: May you return prepared and renewed to advocate for justice and accompany in love.

Michael, speaking to pilgrims: Alright, so this bus is your bus.

You know, we come from a faith tradition in which Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were refugees and migrants. So the right to migrate, the right to flee, the right to seek safety and opportunity is a fundamental right within the Catholic social teaching tradition.

Seventy people gave up their fall break to bus 1,500 miles to El Paso.

Speaker 3: Say, “Hi,” guys.

All: Hi!

Michael, doing roll call: Trevizo, Cindy, C.J., Corine.

Despite how difficult it may be to sleep on a bus for hours and hours and hours, it’s nothing compared to walking 1,500 miles to get to our borders and to be rejected.

It’s not illegal to accompany an asylum seeker to the point of the bridge in which they encounter Border Patrol and ask for asylum.

C.J. Baldelomar: They can come on a bus, any vessel, and ask for your identification, if you’re within 100 miles of a border or the sea. Okay, so unfortunately, when we’re by El Paso they can ask you about your citizenship status. Okay, so just be aware of that.

Michael: So I want to ask: We’re looking for one or two volunteers for those going into Juárez to be somebody to accompany an asylum seeker.

(Multiple people raise hands)

One or two.

(All singing “This Little Light of Mine”)

Maria Franco: And she was like, “Where are you guys from?” And then, I’m like, “We’re on a pilgrimage to El Paso. We’re going to go to the border, and we’re going to stand up for our people and everything.”

And then when it was time to pay our check, she said, “The owner is so touched by your mission, the meal’s on us.” So they paid for our meal. They wanted to put a little bit of their —

Rose Ocampo: Granito.

Maria: — their little grain of rice into our efforts.

A church provided lodging in Albuquerque (after 24 hours on the road).

Michael: What inspires me is the courage in each of you to do something like this. So I want to see you do this. I want to see you lead. I want to see you act boldly because I think this opportunity will change your lives.

Producer: So, how you all doing?

Hibram Sanchez Garcia: Doing pretty good.

Genesis: I’m tired.

Michael: So you’re going to have to remain calm. You’re going to have to remain present. And you’re going to have to remain controlled in a very tense environment. So this prayer that we’re going to go through — the rosary is intentional. It’s not this fluffy stuff.

Speaker 4: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Producer: Do you have any nerves about this? Or are you just excited?

Michael: I think the only thing that I’m reflecting on, probably more than anything else, is you never know what’s going to happen. And you try to plan as much as you can, but oftentimes the unexpected is the thing that does happen.

Upon reaching the border, the pilgrims will take two actions: 1) Peacefully march and protest with Catholic and Latinx organizations from across the country; 2) Help families seek asylum by serving as witnesses and translators.

What is it that I need to stir up within myself, and what is it that we need to stir up within each other? Because if we don’t, we’ll continue to see families separated, children caged, our people shot, our people imprisoned, and our communities dismembered. This is why we’ve begun to come together — because we know the consequences of what happens when we don’t.

(People singing “Ubi Caritas”)

Genesis: And when we finally crossed, I saw the tents, and I saw a lot of people, and I was just overwhelmed. And then I choked up, and I started crying, and I couldn’t breathe. I was having a really hard time trying to be in the moment.

Speaker 5: I also want to tell you that the families that you’re going to meet are very brave.

Hibram: It just seems like we’re right on the pulse of what needs to be done.

Karina De Avila: My parents crossed the border, and it’s almost like I’m going to be making their journey. So for me it’s at a personal level. I think I’m just more — I’m not afraid because I look at their stories and I’m like, what I fear or what’s going through my mind, it’s nothing compared to the journeys that they’ve already had.

Ansima Rosette Mamboleo: If these people’s plans never go through it means death, it means walking hundreds of miles back to where you came from. When I was 7 years old, my family decided to go over to South Africa. At that time, we had executions happening, and my dad was worried for the family. There was this big river we had to go through. We’d be walking slowly, ever so slowly. And every time a helicopter would come above they’d tell us, “Stop,” so that we wouldn’t get seen by the border patrols. And when we got on the other side, there was this big oak tree that was waiting for us, and they had crafted a big hole inside.

And so we put all our bags and we tried to squeeze ourselves inside. And we waited for a very long time, just quiet, waiting — they told us to wait for a truck. A truck was supposed to come get us. After a long ride, we were finally able to get into Pretoria, and they put us over the fence and that’s how I actually got into South Africa. And I couldn’t say thank you to those people, but this is my way of saying thank you. By trying to bring that same hope back to somebody, knowing that even that little word changes and makes a whole big difference in somebody’s life because I’ve seen it make a difference in my life.

2019 Migrant Protection Protocols have forced asylum seekers to “remain in Mexico.”

Genesis: Someone gave me a box to hand to one of the families, to hand them food, and I couldn’t do it. I froze, I started crying. And then I finally took a box, I picked a random family, I asked the mom, “Where are you from?” And she ended up saying she was from the exact same state where my parents are from. She hugged me, and we were just crying together for such a long time. And I had no idea what to say to her. And I felt even if I did try to say something, would it even mean something?

(People chatting and greeting one another, some hugging and crying)

It’s not a lot, but it’s enough and it’s something to start off with. So that was very inspiring to me and just being able to know that we at least did something, and something is better than nothing.

(People singing “Santa María del Camino,” accompanied by guitar)

The pilgrims successfully helped 15 people cross safely into the U.S.

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