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Invitation to Mission: Where Mercy and Joy meet

By Nathalie Marytsch, a Columban lay missionary from Chile working in Birmingham. She shares her experience of a Columban Exposure Visit to the US-Mexico border.

27 March 2016

Today we completed one week since our arrival in El Paso. Signs of tiredness, the effects of the heat, dryness in the air and different types of food to that which most of us are used to, began to show among the group. Despite this, the group is still in high spirits and very caring and supportive towards each other.

We had an early start this morning, setting off to climb ‘Monte Cristo’ (a local hill where people go to reflect on the Stations of the Cross) together with Sai, a Columban lay missionary from Fiji, and a few members of Cristo Rey Parish.

After a steep start we stopped at the first station. As we were going to follow the migrants’ way of the cross we decided to walk in silence until the top of the mount as a sign of solidarity with those many migrants who embark on risky and dangerous journeys searching for sanctuary.

At each station we reflected upon the plight of migrants. We prayed for their struggles, their suffering, the discrimination they face and we meditated on the unjust systems that process their asylum claims, the abuse they encounter from unjust employers and the limitations their children confront in integrating. As we climbed and prayed, I could see the face of Jesus in each migrant I have encountered here and back in the UK and I was able to identify with the tears and cries of so many today with a rejected and suffering Jesus.

In the early evening we crossed the border to Mexico to celebrate the Easter vigil with the Cristo Rey community. It was one of the most amazing celebrations I have been part of. A large crowd processed after a lit Paschal candle. The congregation of around 400 people was comprised of many children and elderly folks and some street dogs (!) which the liturgy leaders tried hard to keep out. There was also a talented group of around twenty musicians whom enlightened the liturgy with tunes that engaged everyone.

One of the most striking parts of the service for me was the blessing of the water. Columban Fr Kevin Mullins took time to go round each aisle and corner of the church to bless the people, the candles and the water they had brought to be blessed. There was a lot of noise and commotion at that moment, people were expectant of the priest and Fr Kevin took his time to greet people, adults, children and the elderly with a kind smile and a few words of encouragement, a message or just a tap on the shoulder.

I somehow felt that this is how I picture Jesus went around the crowds of people who were coming to listen to him. It was far from a quiet ceremonial ritual. There was a profound sense that it was a joyful occasion. We had gathered to celebrate the resurrection of our God, and every part of the mass had its sense of joy.

I feel that in both the Way of the Cross and the Easter vigil here in Mexico today, mercy and joy have met. The mercy of so many in and out of the church communities which we have found accompaniment, encouragement and love to those struggling in the margins of society. And the joy of the people of God who celebrate every sign of life, even in the face of violence and exclusion. I wonder how those migrants whom we prayed for early on, or the ones that I have met and journeyed with in Birmingham might be celebrating this Easter. I pray that joy and mercy also come their way.