Tricia Lothschutz, KBI Immersion Participant
By: Roxane Ramos
As the outreach/volunteer coordinator for the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Chicago, Tricia Lothschutz facilitated an immersion trip to the Kino Border Initiative in October 2013. Tricia frequently contributes to YOUCATholic.com and other social justice and faith-inspired sites, and reflects here on her experience at the border and what it means to be a pilgrim.
To journey without being changed is to be a nomad. To change without journeying is to be a chameleon. To journey and to be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.
~Mark Nepo, from The Book of Awakening
According to Mark Nepo’s definition, I am a pilgrim. I have journeyed and been transformed. There are quite a few journeys in my life that fit this description, one of which was my participation last fall in a Kino Border Initiative immersion experience.
It is said that in order to really understand someone, you need to “walk a mile in their shoes.” After spending a week at the Arizona-Mexico border, participating in the Kino Immersion, my eyes were opened to the devastating reality of the “shoes” in which the migrant and deportee walk.
Prior to this experience, I was aware of the border issues, but on this journey I came face-to-face with the injustice of the border crisis, the indignity, pain, and sorrow experienced. All that I saw and learned, and all of the beautiful people I met that week, have remained with me. It is no longer just about the facts and figures of a political talking point, but about the lives and stories of individuals struggling to survive.
With all of this talk about journeying and shoes, I cannot help but think back to our walk in the desert that marked the start of our immersion experience. A walk in the footsteps of the migrants who cross the border into the United States, facing the harsh conditions of the desert—hot days, cold nights, little food or water—and who face the risk of being caught, detained and deported by the U.S. Border Patrol, all for the chance at a better life for their families.
On our desert walk, we were led down an embankment and under the overpass, a place where migrants frequently hide until nightfall, trying to get to safety. There we saw items left behind by migrants: a pair of shoes, bags, pants, water bottles, all evidence of the lives that had passed through this spot. I tried to imagine the fear and pain of those who had passed through here before us, and the desperate circumstances that must have led them to this moment.
After our time in the desert, we made our way back up to our vehicles. As we climbed the embankment, we quickly became aware of the presence of two Border Patrol vehicles, waiting for us. They had received a call about a group traveling in the desert. Upon seeing that we were not at all a group of undocumented migrants, they moved along. This encounter, however, left a deep impression—it was truly an immersion into the reality of the migrants’ experience. After going through so much to get across the border and through the desert, just like that, it would have all been over. We, however, were able to get in our own vehicles and drive away.
This experience came full circle when we went back to our guides’ home for further discussion and prayer. So as not to track the desert dust into her home, she asked us to remove our shoes before entering. When we left, I was the last one out of the house, and so my shoes sat all alone, waiting to be claimed. Before putting my shoes back on, I remembered the shoes left behind in the desert. I took a moment to pray for the owner of those shoes, wherever he/she might be now, and I also said a prayer of thanks for my blessings, grateful that I was not in a situation where I had to leave my shoes behind.
This immersion experience certainly challenged me to walk differently. It was a reminder of our call to use the “shoes” we have been given to bring about good; to embrace the ones forgotten; to be a voice for the voiceless; to welcome the stranger; to liberate, educate, love, and stand up for justice, especially on behalf of the immigrant and refugee.