One of our guests at St Joe’s is a woman who has been homeless for many years. Recently she had a nice surprise: a relative in England had sent her a round trip ticket to come and visit. She was excited and happy, but there was just one problem: although she had a passport, she had lost it. We joined with her in her efforts to replace her passport quickly, and succeeded – hurray! She’s in England now. But we learned a little about the kind of things homeless people have to deal with, along the way. One poignant moment came when she mentioned that for something she needed to do, there was a thirty dollar fee: “And that’s my entire savings,” she said. “I do like to keep some money saved for an emergency. Well… I guess this is an emergency.” When your entire income is redeemed cans and bottles, $30 is a lot of money. She told us about a conversation she had on the phone with a woman in the passport office, trying to determine what identification she needed in order to replace her passport. “Driver’s license?” the woman asked. “No.” “Birth certificate?” “No.” “Social Security card?” “No.” “What, do you live in a box?!”
Well, no, she doesn’t – but she could. It seems that to be homeless is to be a non-person, as far as the “together” world sees it. Later someone else told her that she didn’t deserve to go to England, because she was homeless.
When you start spending time with people outside your normal orbit, people that typically you just read about in the paper or hear about on the news, when you walk with and become friends with people who are non-people to “together” society, things look different. People become people to you, instead of social problems to be solved. You begin to get a clue what they are up against.
In this morning’s paper there is an article entitled, “Fugitives in area arrested.” It tells of a national sweep by immigration officials, picking up people with a criminal record that are here in the US illegally.
We at St Romero’s know that not everyone picked up in that sweep was a criminal. Some of them were people who, in the words of the farmer who employs them, “just want to pick cucumbers and show up for work.” People who are here for years, separated from their families in order to send money home, because there is no work in Mexico. People who are doing work that people who are born here generally do not want to do. (The farmers say that when they do find a person born in the US who is willing to work on their farms, they typically last three hours). Our friends tell us that workers are leaving the area in fear, because of this recent sweep. Who do we think is going to pick our crops?
Stories about public issues like homelessness and immigration look very different when you know the people involved. There is a young man named Jared, a medical student who has spent time with an organization called “No More Deaths (No Mas Muertes),” that goes out into the Sonora desert looking for people that might need help, bringing them water and medical care. He sent me a report they recently produced about conditions in short term custody with the Border Patrol in the southwest, called “Culture of Cruelty.” It’s a pretty horrifying read, all the more so when I read it realizing that this could have been the experience of our friends. Having a personal connection takes reading things like that to a new level. (Send me an email and I’ll send you a link to a pdf of the document. It’s a tad long, 72 pages, but I recommend taking a look at it. We need to know what is being done in our name, with our tax money).
Here at St Romero’s, we don’t have a long-term plan. So far we’re taking it one moment at a time, saying “yes” to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and seeing where they take us. Right now they’re taking us into deeper relationships with people on the outside in our society. What a gift, to be able to walk alongside these new friends. I don’t know what God is dreaming, but may it be. May we have the grace to keep saying yes.
In this most recent crisis, we were able to come up with the money to bail out two men. It would be good to know that that would be possible should it be necessary in the future. One way to do that would be to establish a bail fund, but I think what might be more practical right now would be to have a list of people who would be willing to put up large amounts of money, $1,000 or more, in a hurry should that be needed. If you might be willing to do that, please send me a note and we’ll talk about the details. It would be great if we knew we had the ability to raise twenty or thirty thousand dollars quickly, should there be another such raid. Getting and keeping people out of detention might not prevent them from being deported in the long run, but it gives them, first of all freedom – detention is pretty bad on the psyche – secondly, a chance to earn and save as much money as possible, to build a court case if they can, and to decide what they are going to do, especially when families are involved. One of the hardest things in this latest event was watching family members suffer, not knowing what would happen to their youngest family member. If you could have seen the faces of father and son when they were reunited, I think you would be willing to do whatever it took to bring about setting the captives free. Like the VISA commercial: toll to Batavia, $1.10; gas for 80 miles round trip: $12; bail for one 19-year-old: $10,000; proclaiming release to the captives: priceless.
So let me know if you might be willing to help in the future.
Blessings and love to all,
Join us on Saturday, Oct 15 at 10 am at the bakery on Mt Hope Ave for our Visioning Day. If you care about this community, you are welcome!
Two upcoming events:
On October 6, Paul Finkelman will speak on Constitutional rights and immigration, first at St John Fisher at 3 pm, later at MCC at 7:30 pm.
On Wednesday, October 12, Fr Anthony Ruff will speak at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School at 7 pm, on the upcoming changes to the Roman Missal: “What do we do NOW?”
Hope to see you on Sunday – please keep everybody at Iglesia de San Romero– and all those they work with – in your prayers.
Oscar Romero Church
A Community of Liberation, Justice and Joy
Worshiping in the Catholic Tradition
Mass: Sundays, 11 am
St Joseph's House of Hospitality, 402 South Ave, Rochester NY 14620