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Sandwiches and shoes; these two things are often associated with The Basilica’s St. Vincent de Paul ministries. And indeed, these are two important aspects of our daily outreach that meet the immediate needs of those struggling in our community. A donation of $1.00 to our St. Vincent de Paul pays for a sandwich and a cup of coffee handed out at the rectory door to someone that might otherwise go without a meal.
I know this comparison is probably overused but as someone that indulges in her fair share of lattes, $1.00 for a sandwich and a cup of coffee is pretty powerful when you consider that it is difficult to leave Starbucks without spending at least $5.00.
And if sandwiches and shoes were all that St. Vincent de Paul did, it would be an inspiring program. But what continues to amaze me about this ministry is that it is so much more than sandwiches and shoes. Not only is St. Vincent de Paul providing emergency assistance, it is building bridges, providing dignified support to our brothers and sisters in need, and creating a common good.
This past year the St. Vincent de Paul mentoring program had 21 mentors that provided more than 800 hours of 1-on-1 mentoring to students at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). This partnership helps students who struggle with homelessness by expanding networks for career development, improving opportunities for success, and providing scholarships upon completion of the program.
This past month a refugee family arrived in Minneapolis. St. Vincent de Paul is providing safe housing and everyday supplies for a family of six, as they emigrate from a refugee camp in Kenya.
This past week, and almost every week, StreetSong-MN, a choir comprised of people currently or formerly homeless and those who care about them, come together to unite voices and create community.
And every so often I am reminded first hand of the power St. Vincent de Paul has when someone comes to the Cowley Center looking for an ID or bus voucher. I can see the relief in their eyes that the answer is not “no we can’t help,” but simply they have arrived at the wrong building.
These are just a few ways that St. Vincent de Paul responded to more than 30,000 of our brothers and sisters in need in 2015.
This Lent, we ask you to consider a pledge to support our life-changing St. Vincent de Paul ministries. One hundred percent of your donation goes directly to support those in need.
Together, we can work to change the culture of poverty in our community. Please consider filling out a St. Vincent de Paul pledge form and mailing it in, dropping it in the collection basket, or you can also pledge online at mary.org/donate.
In December 2015, The Basilica community whole-heartedly agreed to co-sponsor a refugee family with Lutheran Social Services (LSS). In preparation for their arrival, we held a second collection to gather funds needed for housing and other basic needs. We developed a team of dedicated, talented, and compassionate volunteers to organize the efforts and work with the family. We worked with LSS to set up their apartment and collected various household items to make their transition as easy as possible.
The Family Has Arrived!
On February 21, 2016, a group of Basilica parishioners were excited to gather at the airport to welcome the refugee family to Minnesota. Prepared with welcome signs, U.S. and Somali flags, new winter coats and gloves, and open hearts, Basilica parishioners greeted the family and began a journey of support and solidarity.
The family is originally from Somalia. Two parents, two teenage daughters and two sons in their early 20s arrived on February 21. Several older children immigrated separately a few years ago.
After two days of settling in, The Basilica mentoring team joined LSS in a meeting with the family. They began to share stories with one another and build relationships. Through a translator, one of the young men said he knew this transition would be a very difficult move, and he didn’t know if they would be able to make it. However, after meeting the people here to help them, he knows it will work. It was a humbling and sacred meeting.
The Basilica team began to learn how to help the family in their transition. All of their goals involve education and work. The family is deeply grateful for the opportunity to be in Minnesota and said they are committed to “Doing their very best.”
Basilica volunteers are excited to work with LSS to help them reach their goals. We invite our whole community to hold the family in prayer over the months ahead.
The Family’s Journey
During the violent civil war and famine in Somalia, this family left their homeland in 1992 and settled into the newly established Dadaab Refugee camp in Kenya. The United Nations set up Dadaab in one of the harshest terrains in the Kenyan desert in 1991, housing 90,000 refugees escaping Somalia’s civil war. Today, Dadaab is the largest refugee camp in the world, home to close to 500,000 people.
The children in the family that arrived in Minnesota on February 21 were born in the Dadaab Refugee camp. Even with lives beginning and ending, Dadaab remains purely temporary living. No permanent features of community life can officially be established: housing, employment, schooling, or commerce. While canvas tents are provided by the United Nations, they deteriorate in the sun after several years. Houses are then fortified with twigs and occasional tin roofs. Most homes stand less than six feet tall. While people are protected from civil war, security requires little opportunity to leave the camp. To learn more about the refugee camp, visit dadaabstories.org.
Several years ago, after living in the Dadaab Refugee Camp over twenty years, the family was transferred to the Kakuma Refugee Camp to prepare to immigrate to the United States. They have been awaiting the transition for a long time. They arrived tired, yet glad to be in the United States.
How to Get Involved:
During this Year of Mercy, there are many ways to get involved in this ministry. There are several committees established to coordinate these opportunities:
- Mentoring Team: to work closely with the family
- Collections: opportunities to collect and package supplies for refugee families
- Education and advocacy: to provide forums to learn more about refugees and immigration
- Communication: to share information with The Basilica community throughout this partnership
LSS will resettle about 625 individuals in the Metro and St. Cloud areas in 2016. Because they arrive in the U.S. with few belongings, there is an immediate need to provide them with basic personal and household items. In the coming months, we will organize several events to give our Basilica community an opportunity to collect and package the most-needed items.
On a Sunday afternoon in early April, The Basilica and Masjid An-Nur will co-sponsor an event on Islamophobia in our community. Our speaker will be Dr. Todd Green, author of the book The Fear of Islam: An Introduction to Islamophobia in the West and Associate Professor of Religion at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa. This is a timely and important discussion for our community.
The Basilica is already making plans to sponsor another family later in the Spring. If you would like to be involved in this ministry in any way, email Tracy at email@example.com or call 612.317.3477.
According to the United Nations, there are currently 43 million uprooted victims of conflict and persecution worldwide. Rooted in love and faith, The Basilica community is committed to a compassionate response in whatever ways possible. Look for upcoming announcements about how you can help this effort!
Have you ever thought about how many volunteers it takes to make ministry happen at The Basilica? There are many options for getting involved. Volunteer for a one time opportunity, or make a recurring commitment and join a small group for a chance to meet some new people. If you have children at home, you may be looking for volunteer opportunities for your family. Please know there is a place to put your skills and talents to work within our parish, or outside the parish with our community partners.
We are grateful for our cadre of volunteers that flows in and out at The Basilica on weekdays and weekends, but make no mistake, there are plenty of opportunities available now and we welcome your help.
Helping with weekend liturgies is a way to celebrate Mass and volunteer in one trip to The Basilica and be inspired for the week ahead. Volunteers serve as Ministers of Hospitality greeting people as they arrive at Mass and we need more people to help at all of our Masses. Often people join a team to get to know other parishioners, and generally, this is a once a month commitment. Everywhere you look at Masses, you’ll see volunteers in our choirs and serving Eucharistic Ministers. After Masses, we need help staffing our Welcome and Information Desk, and we also need volunteers to serve coffee and donuts and welcome all who join us. These are great opportunities for all ages, including families with children.
On weekends, volunteer catechists teach children and youth about our faith and serve in our Sunday Nursery. Weekdays, volunteers staff our reception desk, greet visitors at our doors, and welcome the hungry with coffee and a sandwich. Volunteer drivers deliver Meals on Wheels to homebound seniors in the downtown area. Some take on a regular shift, while others serve as a backup drivers.
On Thursday evenings, volunteers facilitate our Pathways program to help people working to change and stabilize their lives. A meal is provided, and there is critical need for volunteers to assist with childcare once a month, or once a quarter. Other volunteers serve as mentors to college students who are homeless and enrolled at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Still others participate in our St. Vincent de Paul outreach to those most in need in our community. Volunteer job coaches help the unemployed, and others help build awareness about mental health issues and resources.
Are you good at planning logistics, or do you have a background in sales? You can support all our parish ministries by helping put on fundraising events, or calling on our members and asking for donations. In the summer, we have volunteer gardeners and teams that will help build a new Habitat for Humanity home.
One of the biggest challenges we face is finding volunteers to step into ministry leadership. Day by day, and week by week, volunteers in partnership with staff organize and make our liturgies happen, teach children and adults about their faith and traditions, insure that outreach is available to those in need, involve us in defending others from injustice, and keep parish operations running.
Recently, a group of volunteers and staff met together to explore leadership at The Basilica. We offer this is opportunity about every 18 months. This group got to know each other, and together explored how The Basilica is organized, got to know our staff directors and our pastor, learned about our mission, and our baptismal call.
Please, consider if you are called to get involved. Consider one time opportunities like decorating the church for Easter, or helping the day of the parish picnic, or, if you are looking for a reccurring commitment, join one of our many ministry volunteer teams.
Saint Teresa of Avila put the challenge to us in these words: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.”
How are we going to answer this call to be God's hands and feet in the world?
If you are interested in getting involved, or considering leadership opportunities, reach out to Ashley Wyatt our Volunteer Coordinator at 612.317.3417 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find more information at www.mary.org.
Many years ago when I was in my last year of college, I needed a half credit class to complete my requirements for graduation. Now at that time in my academic career I wasn’t looking for anything that would be especially challenging or that would require a lot of work. Having dropped out of college once, I just wanted to graduate. With this as my criterion, I scoured the various half credit classes that were offered, and finally found one I thought met my criterion to a “T”—Pottery. With low expectations, but with great hope that the class would allow me to graduate, I signed up for it.
As it turned out taking that pottery class was not one of the best decisions I have ever made. I discovered I had even less artistic talent than I had thought. One of the major requirements of the class was that we had to make a variety of different objects. Some of the objects had to be made by hand and some on the pottery wheel. And the objects actually had to be functional and/or decorative. This proved to be somewhat problematic for me. There were, however, two saving graces in the class. The first was that the teacher offered to be available at various times to help those students for whom the word “remedial” was more than apt. The other saving grace was that the art studio was open until 10:00pm so students could come in during the evening hours and work on their projects. I took advantage of both of these things. And ultimately, I was able to fulfill at the requirements for the class, and to my amazement got a B in the class.
There were a couple things I remember from this experience. The first is that even though something looks easy, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. This taught me not to make assumptions, but to check things out thoroughly before jumping in with both feet. Now clearly I don’t always do this, but on more than one occasion it has helped me to avoid making a big mistake.
The other thing I learned is that when you’re trying to throw a pot on a pottery wheel, a slow and gentle touch is needed. If you try to go too fast, or if you use a heavy hand, the pot doesn’t respond well. The best potters know that a slow and steady touch ultimately will produce the best pot. I suspect this is the reason that the prophet Isaiah referred to God as a Potter. “But now, O LORD, You are our Father, we are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.” (Isaiah 64.8)
In my own life, I have discovered time and again that God never forces God’s grace on me. Rather like a potter bringing a pot to life on a wheel, God—with a slow and steady touch—molds and shapes me with God’s grace. Now, certainly there are times when I am resistant to God’s grace, but at these times, God, like a master Potter, doesn’t force, but rather continues to gently form and shape me that I might become the person God would have me be.
I am enormously grateful to God for God’s patience and gentle care with me. And I pray that I might strive to be like clay that is malleable and supple, so that I might respond to God’s gentle touch and be formed into the person God would have me be.
The first two Sundays of Lent relate the story of the temptation of Jesus and his transfiguration. The Church has celebrated these two events on the first two Sundays of Lent since the fourth century.
The desert has a starring role in the season of Lent. It is a place of temptation and a place where the people of Israel were both faithful and unfaithful. The desert is a symbol of communion with God. Those who enter into the desert are free of distractions so that they may encounter God without any trappings or worldly possessions. The desert is also a place where they can lose hope and waver in their trust in God. It is a place of real thirst and hunger for God.
Each of the three temptations begins with the phrase, “If you are the Son of God…” The devil is very manipulative using this statement with Jesus. He is egging Jesus on, or so it seems. How many times have you been baited to cross the line into temptation by someone or something asking you if you are brave enough, or smart enough, or clever enough, or wise enough. It is such a temptation for all of us and speaks about power and control over our lives and others. It also plays into our self-esteem and our love or lack of love for ourselves. If we are not secure that we are the beloved sons and daughters of God and have not come to love ourselves in a healthy way, then we will be swayed by such temptations. But Jesus was so assured of God’s love that he didn’t react to those temptations. He stood his ground knowing that he was God’s Chosen One who has a mission that he would be true to it till the end.
The good news of this desert story is that Jesus was victorious in his struggle with Satan. The Gospel is a reminder to us today that we are all to stand in the struggle against evil with the understanding that because of our faith in Christ, the power of hell will not prevail against us.
The liturgies of Lent prepare us for the renewal of our baptismal promises at Easter and also ask us to reflect on the power of sin in our lives but also the undeniable reality of grace that overcomes sin. Lent is an extended meditation on our need to turn our lives completely over to God, to express sincere sorrow for the sin in our lives and to renew our participation in the Paschal Mystery of Christ.
Another important focus of Lent is mercy. Pope Francis called for a Year of Mercy which began on December 8, 2015. He has been talking about the mercy of God everywhere he goes. He claims that he came up with the idea before he was even pope.
“Humanity needs mercy and compassion. Today we add further to the tragedy by considering our illness, our sins, to be incurable, things that cannot be healed or forgiven. We lack the actual concrete experience of mercy. The fragility of our era is this: we don’t believe that there is a chance for redemption; for a hand to raise you up; for an embrace to save, forgive you, pick you up, flood you with infinite, patient, indulgent love, to put you back on your feet,” he states. “We need mercy….God does not want anyone to be lost. His mercy is infinitely greater than our sins, his medicine is infinitely stronger than our illnesses that he has to heal.”
We can all walk into Lent remembering these words and fall into the arms of God who awaits us with infinite love and mercy.
A couple weeks ago when I was driving back to The Basilica I heard a news report on coloring books for adults. While I was listening to it, I flashed on the memory of an experience I had many years ago. I was visiting my brother and sister-in-law—and trying to be a good uncle—I spent some time playing with my niece and two nephews (all of whom are now adults). At one point the younger of my two nephews was attempting to color a picture. I say “attempting” because while he was using a variety of different crayons to color the picture, his efforts at staying inside the lines were being met with only marginal success. I commented on this and suggested that he try harder to stay inside the lines. His reply was a masterpiece of childhood simplicity. He looked at me and said: “That’s okay; I’m not sure what it’s going to be yet.” Silly me, I thought the picture was determined by the pre-drawn lines. My nephew, on the other hand, had a slightly broader vision. For him, the picture was whatever it turned out to be. He wasn’t limited by any preconceived ideas or pre-drawn lines. For him, the end result—what it looked like when he was finished—was what really mattered.
What stayed with me about this experience was that I think I often approach life the same way I approach coloring. I think I see the whole picture, but in reality my perception is limited and I see only what I want to see. In my mind the lines have already been drawn and all that is left is for me to try to stay within them. More often than I care to admit, I think I see the full and complete picture, only to discover later that there was more to be seen just outside my preconceived lines. In a nutshell, I often miss the big picture and instead see only a limited/reduced version.
I think the above is particularly true with God. I have discovered that more often than not, God draws “outside the lines” in my life. God sees a bigger picture than I do, and am often surprised (actually, more often amazed) when I finally get enough perspective to see that bigger picture. There are times when I have faced adversity or distress only to discover later that it was the source of great blessing and grace. On the other hand, there have been times when something I initially thought was a blessing, turned out not to be the blessing I thought it was.
It is indeed fortunate for us that God is not limited by our pre-drawn lines or our pre-conceived ideas. God sees a bigger picture. Often times, God draws outside the lines of our picture to make a picture of God’s own design. In this new year perhaps one of our resolutions could be that we strive to be open to the picture of ourselves, our lives, and our community that God has in mind. And may our prayer be that we might be open to God’s grace, that the picture God has in mind for us might become a reality.
Recently a young man approached me following one of our Sunday liturgies. He asked if we needed him for the liturgy. Eager to recruit I immediately said “yes, of course.” He thanked me and walked away. I was surprised he did not ask where he could sign up or how he could be most helpful. Maybe his question was more complex?
Reflecting on this interaction, I was reminded that shortly after the post-Vatican II liturgy had been implemented, Pope Paul VI said that up until then it had been sufficient for lay people to merely assist at Mass. “Before,” he said “being there was enough; now attention and activity are required. Before, everyone could doze or chatter, now all must listen and pray.” (see Documents on the Liturgy, 1963-1979 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1982) 27, 401, 115).
This most major shift from ‘assisting at Mass’ to ‘actively participating in the liturgy’ has revolutionized our Catholic understanding of the liturgy. No longer is it acceptable for the laity to watch the ordained ministers celebrate the rites of the church. Since this momentous shift, all Catholics are invited, encouraged, and even required to participate in many and various ways in the celebration of the liturgy.
However, this does not mean that everyone participates in the same capacity. The Pauline image of the Body of Christ, which is one but has many parts, helps us understand how this participation might be best understood. Though the entire Body of Christ celebrates the liturgy, different members of the Body of Christ exercise different ministries in the liturgy.
Thus, the first ministry is that of the entire Church. We, the Church, celebrate the liturgy as the one Body of Christ. Therefore it is important that the entire Body of Christ be present at the liturgy. And it is important that the entire Body of Christ participate actively, fully, and consciously.
Second, some members of the Body are called to participate in a more particular way relative to our gifts and talent. Certain members of the Body of Christ, e.g. have been given the talents to lead the community in prayer and are ordained to do so. Other members of the Body of Christ who have been gifted with musical talents are called to lead the community in song. Those who have the talent of public speech are called to proclaim the Word of God, etc.
Talents are entrusted to us by God for the betterment of the world and the church. Liturgical talents are entrusted to us for the betterment of the liturgy and the proclamation of the Gospel. As members of the Body of Christ we are called to use those talents.
Like the young man who stopped me after Mass, you may wonder if we need you for the celebration of the liturgy at The Basilica of Saint Mary. The answer is plain and simple: “Yes we do!” First of all we need you to participate actively in the liturgy through praying, singing, listening, etc. Second, we need you as a minister of hospitality (usher); as a lector; as an Extraordinary minister of Holy Communion; as a cantor; as a choir member; as a sacristan; as a server; etc. Whatever your talents are, they can surely be put to the service of the liturgy.
As you serve in one of those capacities you will discover a new and deeper appreciation for the celebration of the liturgy; you will learn how to better serve the Church and ultimately you will assist with the bringing about of the Reign of God. And if you think our community is too large, this is a great way to make it smaller. So, do not hesitate. Please go to www.mary.org/liturgicalministry and start the process. And remember: ‘don’t ask what the liturgy can do for you. Ask what you can do for the liturgy!’
The little things in life can be the most powerful.
I have witnessed this first-hand while negotiating appropriate school clothes with a pig-tailed, rosy-cheeked three-year-old. Would it be snow gear or the sundress that was more appealing to her that particular morning?
It is days like this that make me especially grateful for the delayed winter this year. But, it’s always inevitable. It got cold. And I don’t mean a little chill in the air, but Minnesota cold: sleeping-bag style, parka-wearing, run—don’t walk—to the car, stay-inside, electric-blanket, bone-chilling cold.
When the temperature drops below freezing, you can usually expect some complaints to follow. That morning, a few hours after “snow-pants gate,” I was voicing my grievance with our receptionist at The Basilica when she casually reminded me of what the cold brings to The Basilica.
The doorbell rings more often.
The common, sometimes constant buzz you hear on the first floor of the Rectory on the cold mornings actually presents the opportunity for small actions to change our community for the better. For decades, we have provided for the basic necessities of those in need who come to our door.
Little things impact lives for the better at The Basilica. Little things, like a sandwich and a cup of coffee handed out at the door for those who are hungry, or a bus card—or shoes for school.
Really, these “basic” necessities are anything but basic.
The St. Vincent de Paul ministries give authenticity to our faith. It strengthens the outreach, not only to those in need but to those who are searching for a spiritual home on their own faith journey because it demonstrates the love and acceptance so many are hungry to find in their spiritual lives. It is an incredible ministry of our parish, and led by dedicated staff and volunteers. It is when a cup of coffee is not such a little thing.
And there’s the simple message you hear each Sunday. “Wherever you are on your faith journey, we welcome you.” It’s a little sentence but a big statement. It represents the inclusivity that continues to extend an invitation and welcome hundreds of new members to The Basilica each year.
Its repetition reinforces the meaning behind it—and is not for those who are visiting, but those who might be sitting in the same pew each Sunday. It grows when it is not just spoken, but lived.
This year, my family celebrated Christmas at The Basilica. We usually visit family on the farm in South Dakota, and as much as I love the small white chapel on the prairie, celebrating Mass in the magnificence of our inspiring Basilica was a real treat. In the thousands of people who gathered together, God’s presence was so big. Witnessing thousands of people praying, seeing the children stand in awe of the nativity scene, and to hearing the emotional song of the choir—it all reminds me of the importance of our stewardship at The Basilica. It is all so immense, yet so intimate.
As you consider your own participation in the small things at The Basilica, keep in mind that even if it seems small to you, it does make a difference. If you are considering volunteering your time or giving a financial donation, please know that when the community comes together, the communal outcome is so big that the outcome can change and even save lives.
Whether it is supporting the parish through stewardship, or a special gift for St. Vincent de Paul or even a donation for The Basilica Landmark, we are grateful for your consideration and support.
The Jesuit priest, Fr. Karl Rahner, perhaps the premier theologian of the 20th century, was once asked whether he believed in miracles. He answered: “I don’t believe in them, I rely on them to get through each day!” I thought of these words a few weeks ago when a song by Sarah McLaughlan entitled “Ordinary Miracle” came on the radio. I googled the lyrics when I got home and then downloaded the song. The lyrics are simple, and they reminded me that while we may think of miracles as extraordinary, powerful, and unexpected happenings, there are “ordinary” miracles that occur every day.
Why, though, is it often so hard to recognize these “ordinary” miracles that occur all around us? I suspect part of it is the age in which we live where we look for logical explanations or clear reasons for the things that happen in our lives. The thing is, though, that there are some things beyond reason and logic. There are some things that defy explanation and/or don’t yield to easy answers. I believe these are “ordinary” miracles that are often overlooked. When people are able to let go of their hurt and pain and are able to forgive, that is a miracle. When someone gives a lot from the little they have, that is a miracle. When we are able to carry on in the face of disappointment, sorrow, and sadness, that is a miracle. When we are able to let go of our selfishness and live in a more selfless manner, that is a miracle. These are “ordinary” miracles that occur all around us every day.
I believe what helps us recognize the “ordinary” miracles that exist around us is faith. When we look through the eyes of faith, we are better able to recognize those miracles that are present all around us. Faith helps us to realize that sometimes logic and reason can only take us so far. Faith helps us to “see” things in a different way. And faith helps us to understand and accept that God is often working behind the scenes in our lives making “ordinary” miracles happen all around us.
I believe that those “ordinary” miracles that occur each and every day are a gracious gift from a loving God. When we are able to recognize the “ordinary” miracles that happen all around us, it can make a difference in our lives. They give us hope in the face of darkness, and they help us continue on when the way is difficult and the outcome uncertain.
Do I believe in miracles? Absolutely. And like Fr. Rahner, I don’t just believe in them, I rely on them to get me through each day. Miracles, though, are not just those extraordinary and astonishing happenings that sometimes occur. They are that, certainly. But there are also “ordinary” miracles that happen all the time. These miracles remind me that God is always at work in our lives and in our world, and inviting us to recognize and respond to the grace God wants to give us.
Day after day we watch the desperate journeys of refugees making their way towards Europe and a better life. At home the flow of undocumented children briefly caught media attention last year, but now there’s not much news about our southern border. We don’t hear about these grim statistics—nearly 3,000 people died in the Sonoran desert attempting “to cross” since 2000, and last year alone the remains of 133 people were identified. Advocates at Derechos Humanos speak of “remains,” because they think many more have died in the desert. They tell of receiving frantic calls from family and friends, who have not heard from loved ones, because they lost their cell phone coverage in the desert.
In early October Elisa Johnson and I joined the Loretto (Sisters) Border Patrol. We met advocates on both sides of the border. We spent several hours in Tucson at Derechos Humanos learning about Operation Streamline. Started by President Bush and accelerated last year by President Obama, Operation Streamline speeds up the prosecution of border crossers who have attempted it a second time.
We visited the federal court house in Tucson where 86 percent of the court’s cases are marked, “Illegal Entry.” Humiliated detainees are shackled with a chain around their wrists and manacled at their ankles when, in groups of five, they face a judge. Lawyers urge the border crossers to accept a plea deal in return for dropping a felony charge. In Tucson, 70 detainees (the same number of jail cells in the court house) can be sentenced in under two hours every day. The cost to taxpayers is estimated to be $100 million per year. Deportees receive anywhere from 30 days to 6 months in for- profit prisons and leave with a federal criminal record before being deported.
I was surprised to learn the U.S. pays for a veritable cottage industry of for-profit jails, the largest run by the Corrections Corp. of America and GEO Group. Of the 34,000 jail beds slated for detainees, 62 percent of those are in private prisons. According to Advocates for Human Rights, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, more than 2,000 Central American immigrant mothers and children are currently being held in remote locations. The children and their mothers are held indefinitely for seeking asylum—a legal right under both international and U.S. law. In an effort to minimize asylum applications, the U.S. is paying the Mexican Government to stop immigrants from leaving Mexico by sending U.S. border agents to train Mexican agents in apprehension and detention.
Elisa and I crossed the border near Nogales, Mexico. She dragged a large red suitcase filled with toiletries and first aid supplies for the deportees at El Comedor. No one stopped us or asked us for our papers.
Started by the Jesuits and run by a Mexican sister and many volunteers, El Comedor was literally dug out of a hillside in sight of the border crossing. I spoke to a farm worker, who had been apprehended one night outside of a Walmart in upper Michigan where he had purchased groceries for his family. The sole support of his wife and five children, he was fearful of a desert crossing to reunite with his family. Before his deportation, he said he had been in detention centers for the past six months. He had no criminal record—his only crime was crossing our border.
That morning at El Comedor, we served soup and tortillas to the men, a few women and one two-year-old boy. Before they ate, the group bowed their heads and prayed, not just a quick blessing but a long prayer for the journey ahead.