It’s been three weeks since I’ve returned to the United States from my summer in Mexico. My vacation is over, I’ve regained all of the weight I lost this summer, and now I am back in Holy Name College. A lot has happened these past few weeks and my time in Mexico is seeming more and more like a distant memory. And yet, I feel like I have been irrevocable changed after my experience working with the migrants and volunteers of La72. It was a truly grace-filled experience and I miss it terribly.
I was haunted by La72 when I first arrived back home. Despite the initial shock and discomfort of being in Tenosique, I quickly grew fond of the town. I fell in love with the work of La72, the staff and volunteers, and most especially the migrants and refugees. And although my language acquisition skills were not up to par, I was moved by my interactions with everyone at La72, who so generously and bravely shared their stores, their hopes, and their struggles. These personal encounters have made an indelible impression on me and I am grateful for the new connections and deep friendships I have made. When looking back at my experience of La72, the overarching theme was that of Love.
The volunteers and staff at La72 amazed me with their dedication to justice and migrants’ rights. They came from all over the world – the United States, Central America, Europe, and Asia. They were students, professional members of Asylum Access or Médicos Sin Fronteras (Doctors Without Borders), or just regular people looking to help out. Many of them were non-Catholic and some were atheists, yet they all came to La72 to respond to a call of Mercy and Love. Their act of mercy and their work of justice were inspired by a variety of reasons and was often manifested in different ways, but they all shared in a profound love for those who have been victims of injustice and oppression. Their commitment to and passion for human rights, for migrants’ rights, and for justice stirred me to do more. They inspired me to love more.
I often hear from religious who lament the decline in vocations to religious life, but I am not disheartened. When I see the smiling faces of the volunteers at La72, whether or not they are people of faith or no faith, Christian, agnostic, or atheist, I see people who are ready and willing to do the work of love and justice. They’re driven towards justice not because of an external moral imperative to do good, but because they are motivated by an internal, innate goodness that calls them beyond themselves, towards an encounter with the other. In that innate goodness and desire for justice without judgment, I see the fundamentals of love that we religious often have to learn through a lifetime of formation.
This was most visible during the Orgullo Gay celebration we had in La72 at the end of June. To celebrate the beauty of the LGBT migrant experience, the members of the LGBT group invited the volunteers and staff of La72 to a party inside their modulo. To show their gratitude and support, the volunteers “dressed up” for the occasion, with the guys donning dresses and the girls sporting polyester Hawaiian shirts and painted beards. I was surprised that the volunteers decided to dress up. At first I said “No,” thinking it was “not appropriate… what will people think?” Then I realized that these men and women volunteers (many of whom are straight and atheist) didn’t think about any of that. They only thought about showing solidarity and love for their LGBT brothers and sisters. It was a humbling moment and showed me the ingrained fear and internalized, self-inflicted homophobia that often still lingers. As a religious, I think we are called to get rid of that, to strip away all of that fear and shame and to live in love. Only Love.
I left La72 with a heavy heart, but it was heavy with gratitude for all of the new friendships I have made. It was full of Love.