Recently, I was blessed to accompany members of Our Lady of Lourdes’ (Minneapolis) parish justice and charity commission on a visit to its sister parish in Tijuana, Mexico: a mission run by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
As migration-related advocacy has been a significant focus of our work at the Minnesota Catholic Conference over the past decade, I thought it important to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border to encounter the realities faced by those living and migrating there. My experience there made the themes in Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) come alive.
A Church that goes forth to the peripheries
The missionary call of the Oblates is to go where no one else will. Pope Francis calls this going to the peripheries. He states: “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (EG 20).
The Tijuana mission is in the heart of the poorest parts of Tijuana, out in the desert hills where the cartels have made significant inroads. The area has grown significantly as people have migrated there in search of work and, in some cases, the opportunity to eventually cross the border. Yet, there is little work that pays a living wage; U.S., Korean and Chinese companies have moved in and pay around $70 a week for 48 hours of work — embodying what Pope Francis calls the “economy of exclusion,” where the poor do not fully share in the fruits of their labor, and are treated as “the outcasts, the leftovers” in a “throwaway culture.”
The problems fueled by these tumultuous economic conditions are significant: poverty, substance abuse, crime, human trafficking, family fragmentation, abortion, psychological trauma, serious environmental degradation and substandard housing.
Into this plight, the Oblate fathers bring Christ’s light. The motto of their founder, St. Eugene de Mazenod, is simple, yet profound: “We must lead men to act like human beings, first of all, and then like Christians, and, finally, we must help them to become saints.”
Therefore, the mission — a collaboration of the priests and laity — sponsors, among other things, an orphanage; visits to the poor and elderly in which they provide food, clothing and other goods; a school for children with disabilities; a roof repair team; scholarship programs for young adults; and migrant and refugee services. Mass is said in 17 chapels across the mission territory, and a dynamic youth ministry serves hundreds weekly, nurturing — through a life of prayer, service and formation — Catholic leaders who have become part of the mission outreach.
Living the joy of the Gospel among the poor
The Tijuana mission overcomes the false divide found in so many ministry efforts to the poor — which sometimes either focus exclusively on proclaiming the Good News without attending to the whole person, or solely on politics and structures, forgetting that man does not live by bread alone.
Instead, the mission lives Pope Francis’ directive that “pastoral ministry in a missionary style … has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The message is simplified, while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the more forceful and convincing” (EG 35).
Loving God in prayer, word and sacrament, and the love of neighbor lived in spiritual and corporal works of mercy, are at the center of the Tijuana mission.
The joyful witness of the missionary fathers and their associates, and the way in which they are transforming the physical and, often, spiritual deserts around them, help us see the integration of proclamation and service — the life of charity rooted in an overwhelming evangelical impulse to share the gift of faith — what Pope Francis calls the Church as a “field hospital.”
The mission in Tijuana, and other places like it, are opportunities to experience the heart of Pope Francis’ message: “Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God. Whenever our eyes are opened to acknowledge the other, we grow in the light of faith and knowledge of God. If we want to advance in the spiritual life, then, we must constantly be missionaries. The work of evangelization enriches the mind and the heart; it opens up spiritual horizons; it makes us more and more sensitive to the workings of the Holy Spirit, and it takes us beyond our limited spiritual constructs” (EG 272).
Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.
Protect freedom of religion and association on campus
Student organizations on college and university campuses should be able to select leaders who share the organizations’ goals. Would it make sense to force College Democrats to allow a Republican to lead the organization? Must the Libertarians admit Democratic Socialists to leadership positions? Of course not. Yet religious groups — including Jewish, Muslim and Catholic groups — are being kicked off campuses for requiring that leaders uphold the teachings of the group.
This is not only a matter of fundamental freedoms. It’s also a matter of common sense.
The Equal Campus Access Act of 2019 protects all students by withholding certain federal funding from public universities that discriminate against religious student groups. Tell your senators and representatives to support H.R. 3243/S.1168, the Equal Campus Access Act! You can call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected with your members of Congress.