Nineteen members of the St. John’s University community traveled to El Paso, TX, to participate in the first-ever Jornada por la Justicia (Pilgrimage for Justice), a three-day “teach-in” in support of the thousands of migrants being held at the US/Mexico border.
Jornada por la Justicia featured workshops, leadership tools, strategy sessions, coalition building, nationally recognized speakers, and bold public action—all focusing on the themes of migration, identity, anti-racism, Catholicism, and other local borderland issues.
The event was born out of informal meetings among Catholic Latino leaders at this summer’s National Symposium on Catholic Hispanic Ministry.
“We talked about the border crisis and the various ways in which human rights are being violated—and the frustration felt within our communities,” said event co-organizer, Jeremy V. Cruz, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Theology and Religious Studies, St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“We felt like we were not doing enough to address the problem.”
The group created the Latinx Catholic Leadership Coalition; realizing that most members neither lived nor worked in border towns, they enlisted the support of the HOPE Border Institute, an El Paso-based Catholic organization that brings the perspective of Catholic social teaching to bear on the realities unique to our US-Mexico border region.
Together, they laid the groundwork for what would become Jornada por la Justicia.
Over three days in October, attendees of the Jornada participated in a wide range of plenaries, workshops, and reflections, covering various issues pertinent to the border crisis, such as overcoming racism; family separation; voter suppression; and nonviolent, strategic resistance.
On the second day of the event, more than half of the nearly four hundred in attendance participated in what was billed as a “public action,” a border crossing into Ciudad Juárez, a Mexican city directly across the Rio Grande that is home to encampments of asylum seekers.
This action included a ritual blessing of the Paso Del Norte International Bridge and accompaniment of three Mexican families attempting to enter the asylum process on the bridge. Meanwhile, others remained on the El Paso side of a newly constructed border wall, marching and praying for asylum seekers and fractured border communities.
For Environmental Studies major Zoe J. Sheppard, a senior from Laurel, MD, the public action was a transformative experience.
“I was part of a small group that accompanied three different families who sought entry into the United States,” she explained. “They had already tried crossing the border several times, and we anticipated that they would be denied entry once again. To our great surprise, all three families were allowed to enter after a short wait.”
She continued, “The emotion that ran through us when the families were permitted entry was absolutely incredible. Hearing their stories as we walked with them into the US is something that will stay with me.”
Roger Guevara, a junior from Staten Island, NY, was also affected by the experience. “The moment that encapsulates the trip was walking to Mexico and seeing these families,” the Business major recalled. “To see photos of what is happening at the border is quite different from actually being there. I saw families with little children sleep on the cold concrete; it hurt me to witness it.”
One of the long-term goals of Jornada por la Justicia is for those in attendance to advocate for those affected by the border crisis. Upon returning home, many participants engaged in phone lobbying to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to advocate for border policy reforms and to call for a meeting with DHS officials.
Among those eager to advocate is Irene Gorosave, a senior from Imperial City, CA, who has a personal connection to the border crisis—she used to cross the border daily to visit her mother, who had been deported.
“It is imperative to get informed,” she declared. “We must open our eyes and hearts and empathize with our brothers and sisters because what is happening is not acceptable.”
According to Dr. Cruz, Jornada por la Justicia’s approach to learning and civic engagement is unique in its emphasis on close accompaniment, prayer, and political solidarity with people who are most violated and vulnerable.
“There is more of a focus on learning to creatively mobilize our capacities to defend life and to promote institutions that make flourishing in the community possible. I am grateful for the experience.”