Father Meany's Trip to El Paso

20181210.ElPaso.TX.0025On December 10-11, 2018, our pastor Fr. Mike Meaney traveled with Catholic Extension to the Dioceses of El Paso, Texas and Las Cruces, New Mexico. He had the opportunity to visit two temporary migrant shelters and learn about the relationship between U.S. immigration and the Catholic ministries that offer humanitarian aid.

Fr. Meany was present for the annual presentation of the Lumen Christi award to Sr. Marie-Paule Willem, FMM, of the Diocese of Las Cruces. Each year Catholic Extension presents the $50,000 award to people nominated by their diocese as an outstanding example of the “Light of Christ” among the poor.

He also participated in the pilgrimage up Mount Tortugas for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and attended Mass at the summit celebrated by Bishop Ricardo Ramirez.

Below is a detailed description of the trip, The information and photos are provided by Catholic Extension.


20181210.ElPaso.TX.0194Catholic Extension Staff

Fr. Jack Wall - President

Liz Boo - Publishing Editor

Joe Boland – VP Mission

Marty Kozar – Dir of Events

Tom Gordon - COO

Rich Kalonick – Photographer

Julie Turley – VP Dev.

Tim Muldoon – Dir. Mission Ed

Kevin McGowan - CFO


20181210.ElPaso.TX.0228Catholic Extension’s Guests

Sr. Lupita Ibanez

Midland, TX

Sr. Andrea Falconer

Sr. Christa Parra

Phoenix, AZ

Fr. Mike Meany

Chicago, IL

Margie Devine

Chicago, IL

Elizabeth Borger

Elkhart, IN

Susan Gordon

Chicago, IL


20181210.ElPaso.TX.0232The trip began with a visit to the Centro San Juan Diego, which until just several weeks ago was home to an after-school evangelization program run by Dr. Veronica Rayas. Veronica’s education in Religious Education at Fordham was supported by Catholic Extension, and her dissertation on “La Famila’s Catechesis” focused on the rich ways that Hispanic families pass on their Catholic faith through cultural celebrations rooted in the home. This kind of “contextual catechesis,” so to speak, has proved to be an important foundation for the work that she and her colleagues have engaged in over the last number of weeks: namely, converting the center into a temporary migrant shelter.

Veronica has responded to a call put out by Annunciation House, the place in El Paso that has sheltered migrants for over 40 years. Recent months have seen a dramatic rise in the number of migrants applying for asylum in the United States, and so Annunciation House has tried desperately to offer them respite from the often harsh conditions that they have experienced while in detention under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Every day, Veronica and other shelter supervisors receive a text from ICE, indicating how many people to expect that day. Veronica meets them at the bus that arrives from the detention center, and greets them warmly. Many do not even know where they are when they arrive, and many show signs of emotional trauma and/or physical exhaustion. She ushers them with a smile into the center’s dining area, where they receive a brief orientation: here they are free people, they will be taken care of, and they will be helped to their destinations throughout the United States.

The migrants are released by ICE with GPS-enabled ankle bracelets, though we learned later that sometimes they run out. The migrants sometimes do not really understand what the ankle bracelets are for: some believe them to be explosive devices which may go off if they commit a crime, while others are fearful if they are released without them. In addition to this kind of confusion, there are others: a misunderstanding of how vast the United States is; a fear about how to navigate the interstate bus system or how to make way through an airport. Veronica and her staff help as much as possible, indicating for example that in any bus station or airport they ought to look for a friendly face and someone who speaks Spanish, reminding them that there are many Americans who are friendly and want to help.

On this day, we arrived minutes after the ICE bus, and so joined the new arrivals as they were being given the orientation. Veronica told them that they would have the opportunity to shower, receive new clothing, and rest. She then invited everyone to come have soup. Looking around the room, one could see that several faces began to soften and eyes brighten. A few minutes later, as Veronica explained the reality of migrant journeys, several children ran amongst us with happy faces, and two small girls proudly showed off their work in a coloring book.

The group had time to interact with several of the guests. One, speaking to Sr. Lupita, expressed how grateful she was to simply have the opportunity for conversation. For many guests, the road to this place was long and difficult, with many people mistreating or ignoring them. Many are fleeing violence back home; stories of extortion or murder are not uncommon. The kind of welcome that the migrants experience at the center are a respite, a form of Christian hospitality that reminds them that they too are loved by God even when others around them can be cruel. It is a foundational form of evangelization, in the sense that it is an enactment of Jesus’ exhortation to welcome the stranger as Jesus himself (cf. Matthew 25).

The second visit was to one of the hotels that Annunciation House has been renting for migrants, the same hotel which the Assumption Sisters—whom we met later in the evening—have been serving with food and clothing donations. One of the women who works at Annunciation House gave us an orientation and tour through the facility, and described the exhausting work that she and others—many who volunteer from around the country—have been doing because of the migrant influx. The hotel serves three meals a day, coordinates medical care, and offers clothing and other necessities. Like the Centro San Juan Diego, it offers rides to the airport or bus station so that the migrants can meet friends or family in other parts of the United States. Most importantly, it offers some semblance of normal life, off the streets and among people who care for their welfare and hope to help them find a home.

Our final stop, after a 45 minute drive on the bus, was the Double Eagle restaurant in Mesilla, New Mexico, just outside of Las Cruces. The occasion was a celebratory dinner in honor of Catholic Extension’s 2018 Lumen Christi Award winner, Sister Marie-Paule Willem, FMM. At her request, the other sisters who worked in the Diocese of Las Cruces were present, including two Sisters of the Assumption from Chaparral (plus their guest, Tonya), and eleven Dominican sisters from Chaparral, eight of whom were novices. Sr. Marie-Paule also invited the two sisters of her order who are part of her household.

During the dinner, Fr. Jack Wall spoke of the ways that the sisters of the diocese are light to the world, and described in particular the valuable work of Sr. Marie-Paule among her parish community, and among the women in the local prison. After dinner, representatives of each of the other women religious communities had the opportunity to share about their ministries.

The following day, the group set off for Tortugas Mountain and the annual Guadalupe pilgrimage. We climbed the mountain over the course of about an hour, and at the summit witnessed the many families who had similarly made the trek. There were a number of priests joining Bishop Ricardo Ramirez—the founding bishop of Las Cruces who had retired but who was called out of retirement when his successor, Oscar Cantu, was named an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of San Jose. Many heard confessions and offered blessings. Meanwhile, there were hundreds of people that offered devotions at the altar atop the mountain, and at the small shrine that had been constructed just a stone’s throw from the altar. Susan Roberts, who has worked for the Diocese for many years and who had been present at the Lumen Christi dinner, met us at the top of the mountain and spoke about the importance of the Guadalupe celebration.

Bishop Ramirez celebrated Mass, and in one particularly moving meditation during his homily he asked all the participants to turn and face the city of Las Cruces. From this “God’s eye” view, he asked us to call to mind the sick or the dying in the hospital; the students studying at the university; the women giving birth; the laborers in the pecan and chili farms who earn little money; and others. He exhorted us to live our faith generously in our families and in our communities, preaching in both English and Spanish. It was very clear from his joy how well loved he is in this community, and it was equally clear how dear is the faith to the pilgrims, and how important their devotion to the Lady of Guadalupe.

We descended the mountain by the dirt access road, which was significantly easier to traverse compared to the rocky trail we ascended. Regathering at the bottom of the mountain, we boarded our bus and drove back to Mesilla for lunch. Bishop Ramirez joined us not long thereafter, but only a short time later about half the group had to depart in order to make flights back home.

Last Published: December 20, 2018 10:31 AM
Fr. Robert Carlton's Ordination


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