April 4, 2014: El Paso visit broadens view of embracing peace, by Sister Julie Christensen

April 4, 2014 by

Sister Julie Christensen

How do I embrace or grasp peace?

I was fortunate to spend three weeks in El Paso, Texas, in March. It was a time to, once again, challenge my perception, my language and my exceptions and expectations.

Every visit there is a time of stark differences. Edging El Paso is a canal, in effect a dried up portion of the Rio Grande, that separates it and its sister city, Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. These two sister cities alone  are home to a population modestly estimated at 2 million people.

Seeing what I want to see is a given. The same goes for hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling. Much goes into developing my perception, more than I could ever knowingly observe or recount. I often make definitive statements and conclusions about things I inadequately understand.

I may slip into this behavior because it takes effort to exercise my senses.

Perhaps, garnering more viable information through my senses is a way to embrace peace.

In El Paso, most families have lived their lives fluidly from one side of the border to the other. But n the last two decades, there has been a huge shift in the area. Civil wars throughout Central America, effects of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, human trafficking and drug trafficking are a few issues at the forefront of the instability.

Perhaps, expanding my view of the reasons people seek support in the United States is a way to embrace peace.

Right now I feel challenged in trying to understand what is being suggested in the immigration reform bill, which the U.S. Senate approved in a bipartisan vote last year but which remains stalled in the U.S. House.

Most of what I am hearing revolves around “securing the border.” But I’ve seen and heard first hand that “securing the border” is an inaccurate assessment of the totality of needs.  The need dwells in the living and in the lives of those seeking safe-haven, those whose lives really are in danger and who suffer in ways I cannot imagine and never will.

Perhaps, assisting families who are in need, both here and there, could be a way of embracing peace.

I was fortunate to sit in on Immigration Court during my stay in El Paso, presided over by a judge well known for deporting asylum seekers, regardless of the situations to which these people return.

Before the “filing party (husband and wife)” entered the courtroom, the lawyer asked to add respondents to testify. With certainty the judge said, “You know how I rule on these cases, I doubt my ruling will change.” He defined how he responds to all cases before the individual proceedings even begin. And the stories we later heard were brutal.

Perhaps embracing and grasping peace has more to do with embracing what I feel resistant to responding to — even going to the border, listening to stories, observing the plight and seeing the actual line in the sand.

Care for the neighbor is deeply rooted in who I am as human being, as a Sister of St. Joseph and as a U.S. Citizen. I hesitate to think I am alone in this reality.

It’s what is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, in a poem by Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”


— Sister Julie Christensen is a native of Concordia and is on staff at Manna House of Prayer.


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