Christianity needs to have more words for “faith.” I want to write about the fact that this Borderlands trip was only the second time in my life where I felt a sense of the depth, and even more so the necessity, of a faith that God is somehow, in some way, present amidst the most despicable treatment of human beings. The other time was the year I worked at a homeless shelter in Baltimore.
What I want to say is that the stories I heard and the conditions I saw in the Borderlands forbid me from discarding “Christianity” as solely a spineless institution bound to the self-interest and corruption of political and economic powers, which for the most part is the embarrassing reality of a man-made tradition that claims to represent the word of God but in fact gives legitimation to the interests and will of men. One example: the Mexican-American bishop of Brownsville, Texas who has yet to prove solidarity with the poverty, suffering, and lack of opportunity of the mestizo people trapped in the Brownsville borderlands by strategically placed, militarized checkpoints. Another example: in my own pursuit of becoming a “master of theology” I have and will inevitably continue to participate in a game of touting my knowledge of technical vocabulary and abstract theories, tempted by the prospect of “universal truth” that comes with the comfort of privilege, too busy in the library to consider the truths that are known on the streets of Harlem, in the shelters of Baltimore, in the colonias of Cameron County, TX.
What I need to express is the overwhelming feeling that I could not shake as our group reflected together on the Stations of the Cross at the Basilica of San Juan. It was the simultaneous realization that I am not spared from pain and suffering, I don’t have to deny my own experience of the metaphorical burden of the cross that is felt in different ways by us all. The image of Jesus’s last moments—the pain of a mother watching her son suffer, the relief brought by a friend’s hands lightening the load of the cross, repeated depictions of falling and having to get back up, alone—these are relatable portraits of very human experiences to which everyone can connect their own stories. But as I reflected at the station of Jesus falling for the third time, I could not shake the image of the mother of three daughters whose two hands were severed in a preventable maquiladora machinery accident. How does she get back up? Where does she find the strength to pick up her cross once more, with no physical option for continuing to support her children, when her “worker’s compensation” lasts only a few months, and then the rent and cost of food in the colonias will be too much to bear? It was these sorts of questions that we eager seminarians asked the female leaders in that bedroom meeting in the colonias, that we asked the woman who had fled to the United States in a tire, in hopes of a better future for her son. Where do you find your hope, when you are defined as cheap labor, when everyday you agonize over the future suffering of your children, when you are denied public lights by a state that is the fifteenth richest economy in the entire world? The unwavering answer by every single individual we have talked to on this trip has been just one, whispered word: faith. A faith so deep, so real, and so subversive, that all I can try to do is keep telling these stories of suffering, survival, and an unwavering faith in God that are not my own. I can bear witness. And I can continue to demand that the Church, that theologians, that any person claiming a Christian faith, speak, and more importantly act, out of the recognition of the Galilean principle of which Virgilio Elizondo reminds us: what human beings reject, God chooses as God’s very own.