LoVos come together in support of migrants
Encuentro is Spanish for meeting, gathering, encounter — the act of coming together. For the Loretto Volunteer Program, our experience of encuentro at the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso this past March was eye-opening. This was the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that Loretto Volunteers gathered in-person instead of online. It was the first time the LoVo Program returned to the border in several years, joining with the Loretto Community in its work there for justice and peace and encountering the harsh realities of the migrant experience.
I will be advocating for the rights and dignity of all people, as well as large-scale reform in policy.Emily Fordham
In partnership with the Encuentro Project, Loretto Volunteers participated in a robust schedule of education, service, reflection and community activities framed by Catholic social teaching. Our Volunteers from Denver and El Paso brought different perspectives to the gathering and collectively reported the power and impact of the experience.
Emily Fordham (Denver LoVo serving with the Women’s Bean Project) was struck by the resilience she experienced in those she encountered. “Many of the people we met in El Paso left significant impressions on me and I am carrying with me the stories they shared with us. The strength, hope, passion and grit of the people we were fortunate to spend time with were truly inspiring. I will be advocating for the rights and dignity of all people, as well as large-scale reform in policy.”
Kayla Howell (El Paso LoVo serving with Villa Maria) voiced a commitment to continue to learn about and be present with individuals and communities suffering as a result of border injustice. “The immigration system is very complex and although I learned so much, I know I have so much more to learn — and it’s my responsibility to be active in that search for knowledge — there is only so much you can learn by reading. Truly experiencing and seeing firsthand how the U.S. immigration system treats humans seeking asylum with little to no human dignity — it is an atrocity no one should stand for.”
If you are reading this and have not lately thought about the privilege of your citizenship, I hope you take a moment to do so soon.Alisa Ndoci, Loretto Volunteer and Albanian citizen
Alisa Ndoci (Denver LoVo serving with Angelica Village) found that the border experience hit close to home – Alisa is a citizen of Albania who has been in the U.S., away from her family, for the past five years, navigating many of the challenges of the U.S. immigration system. Her time at the U.S.-Mexico border prompted her to issue a call to us all, “If you are reading this and have not lately thought about the privilege of your citizenship, I hope you take a moment to do so soon. I hope you also take a moment to learn more about current immigration policies that are harmful, and I hope you find a way to help — not to save anyone, for no one needs saving, but I hope you find a way to further the liberation of others in hopes of furthering yours. For as long as some of us aren’t free, none of us is.”
Jax Viteznik (Denver LoVo serving with Loretto at the UN) felt the encuentro experience provided a visceral layer of understanding to her awareness of and advocacy around human rights issues at the border: “I thought I knew what migration was like in this country, with all of the news stories and human interest stories I consume. But the reality is a lot more grim.”
Georgia Rawhouser-Mylet (El Paso LoVo serving with Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center) found that the encuentro experience helped ground her daily work as a legal assistant at a legal immigration nonprofit in the historical, social and political forces at play at the border: “It helped me put my day-to day work in its bigger context. I will carry away from this experience a deeper understanding of the ways that the immigration system is cruel, dehumanizing and imperialist, from the moment a migrant attempts to enter the United States and through their entire legal process. However, there are dedicated, creative people working to help migrants navigate this system and push for change.”
Upon their return from the border, the Volunteers gathered online with Loretto’s Latin America/Caribbean Committee to exchange reflections and connect to Loretto’s ongoing work for justice for migrants and refugees.
Volunteer Director’s note: The Loretto Volunteer program will pause at the end of the current program year to engage in a process of learning, exploring and planning for a new vision of Loretto mission work. This process will be done in collaboration with Sisters INSPIRE, a learning cohort sponsored by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and facilitated by the Catholic Volunteer Network that is supporting us in our re-imagining process. – Annie Rosenkranz