Ignatian Social Justice Essay: Still No Room at the Inn?

Jan 4, 2022

By now regular readers of this newsletter know that a small group of parishioners, from Ignatian Social Justice Ministry, Laura De Boisblanc, Christine Meyer, Fr. Danny Gustafson, my wife Dolores Troy Quinn, and I, will be journeying to the Diocese of Brownsville, TX to assist at Friends of the Border. Fr. Brian Strassburger, S.J., and Fr. Louie Hotop, S.J., are two recently ordained Jesuit priests, who, for their first mission, have been sent to the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, in Texas to work in the Rio Grande Valley along the U.S.-Mexico border. Both Fr. Brian and Fr. Louie are new to work on the border, and they are the first two Jesuits missioned to Brownsville. We will help to deliver food supplies, do laundry, prepare meals, and stock inventory at a Humanitarian Respite Center for migrants. The final leg of the trip will take us to Reynosa, Mexico.

So why would a guy like me in the 8th decade of life want to engage in such a mission? I have never studied Spanish. My dietary needs are not standard cuisine in Mexico. I take daily medicine for high blood pressure. And I love the daily comfort of living on the Upper East Side.

Before I even attempt to answer that question, let me tell you my background. I was born a child of privilege and never knew it until recently. My mom, Kathleen Reilly, chose to leave the family farm in Ireland and embarked on a 3-week journey to America. She held tightly to a coin and instructions from her Aunt Rose in New York. The instructions required my mom to find a phone booth, insert the coin in the phone, and dial a number. Aunt Rose picked up the phone and heard my mom crying “Aunt Rose, it’s your niece Kathleen. I am in New York.”

Compare my mom’s story to that of immigrants today. Whereas my mom had a choice to come to America, migrants coming today have no choice but to leave their own homeland wrecked by food insecurities, drug and gang cartels, farms destroyed by hurricanes, and climate change. There are no jobs and massive government corruption that afford no hope. To stay is to court beatings, robberies, and oftentimes death. Corrupt governments provide no public safety. Into the breach have stepped rival gangs and drug cartels.

Whereas my mom came to America to find better opportunities, today’s immigrant comes to escape death and find any opportunity. We see horrifying photos of migrants crossing rivers with all their possessions on their shoulders and carrying small children. Along the perilous journey, they may stop at camps with little sanitation, food supplies, or medical care. Our team will work at a camp in Reynosa, Mexico. According to reports from our own US Department of Homeland Security, migrants encounter a range of dangers from assault, rape, robbery, kidnapping, and murder. This was not my mom’s journey. Seems like today there is no room at the inn.

So why or how should all this chaos affect me? It took over 50 years in my career as an educator, as a world traveler, as an avid consumer of world news, and my affiliation with St. Ignatius Loyola Parish to help me realize my obligations as a Catholic. When Matthew exhorts us in 22:37-39 to love thy neighbor, he was not simply referring to the person sitting in the next pew at St. Ignatius.

When Pope Francis celebrated Mass on the 105th World Day of Migrants just a few months ago, he condemned “the globalization of indifference” and noted the “painful truth that our world is daily more and more elitist, and more cruel towards the excluded.” Is no room at the inn the new norm? Am I indifferent? Recently, we celebrated Christmas, and today, 2000 years later, there is still no room at the inn for millions.

Why am I going to the border? The Ignatian Social Justice Ministry here at St. Ignatius has helped me to internalize important Jesuit values: (1) to be men and women for others by sharing gifts, pursuing justice, and having concern for the poor and marginalized; (2) Magis (More) to interact with the world in a spirit of generosity and empathy; (3) service rooted in justice and love. As a relative newcomer to the parish, I have learned from all of our parish priests the Jesuit tradition that encourages us to live purposeful and fulfilling lives in service to others. And when St. Ignatius asks, “Where in our day did we find God’s presence?”, I hope I have an answer.

When our team goes to the border, our ministry and our Jesuit ideals tell me we are seeing the face of Christ. Until then, I will work to improve my Spanish, and I will especially remind myself that the migrants I meet are just like my mom seeking a better life. Hopefully, there will be some room at some inn for today’s immigrants.

If you are interested in learning more about our journey or just want to learn more about our Ignatian Social Justice Ministry at St. Ignatius, please email us at [email protected].

 – Terry Quinn