By Sr. Judy Gomila, MSC
As a Mission Educator for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, I was constantly challenged to cross boarders – and draw others with me. In an effort to sensitize the local Church to poverty and social exclusion in nearby countries, the Mission Office frequently sponsors “immersions” for young adults, seminarians, medical personnel, families, catechists and youth ministers. I’ve noticed that whether individuals participate in a border experience in Mexico, a catechetical Vacation Bible School in Belize or a medical mission outreach in Nicaragua, the dynamics of these immersions are remarkably the same.
Typically, our missionaries arrive on-site and are overwhelmed by the poverty that surrounds them. They listen to the stories of the people – and experience the chasm between the lives of the indigenous folks and ours as US citizens. Gradually, as our missionaries come to know the people they came to “help”, they realize they are the ones being evangelized. Struck by the deep faith and spirit of community among the natives, the missionaries realize the locals are rich in ways far more valuable than material wealth. Distances between missionaries and the others diminish as friendships develop and similarities are recognized. The foundation for genuine solidarity is laid.
These short-term mission opportunities abroad are certainly important because they help to bridge the gaps. Each experience moves our US missionaries beyond themselves to get new insights into cultures, countries and governments.
It has become clearer to me that borders among nations are not the only boundaries to be crossed. In many ways it is easier to feel solidarity with those at a distance. It’s not quite so at times with excluded peoples close at hand. In “hometown” USA people are often fearful, confused, angry and – yes – prejudiced when confronted with the needs and demands of the marginalized. In response to “third-world people” on our own turf, we Americans resort to the old “pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps” adage.
The Gospel call to communion and solidarity is neither easy nor simple. We are challenged to address complex issues and situations – globally and in our own backyards. Everywhere there are networks of privilege, prejudice and power so enmeshed in our systems and structures they are almost impossible to grasp.
Jesus espoused an inclusive vision. This spirituality requires us to
- embrace our inter-connectedness with the marginalized, wherever they are;
- defend the human rights of all our sisters and brothers;
- uncover common ground with peoples of all cultures and faiths;
- reverence all creation.
Eucharist is the sacrament of solidarity. It challenges us to keep crossing borders of all sorts, to recognize and receive “the holy” in people and places likely and unlikely. This is the call to be catholic – to be universally inclusive, to enflesh our belief that all of us form one body and are truly part of one another. This is the challenge – “to the ends of the earth” and at home – to provide welcome at the table of the Eucharist and the multiple public and private tables of our lives.