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How a St. Francis statue changed my life

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I was 19, and living back home with my family for a while, when, coming in one evening, I found everyone very bemused with me.

“We got a call from the Christian book store that the book you ordered is in…….?” My mom queried.

“OK.”

“We thought it might be a wrong number……?”

“No, that’s the book I ordered about St. Francis.”

They all looked at each other.

As I headed down the hall to my room, I heard my brother ask, “What? Did you hear that?”

My step dad said, “Well… you never know what Shawn is going to do.”

At that time I was getting ready to go to Corpus Christi to spend some time with my Granny.

I planned to re-paint the St. Francis statue she had in her back yard while I was there.

Someone had given it to her in the distant past, to set at the grave of a beloved family dog who had died long ago. The worn, concrete statue was of a serene faced man in a tattered habit, a hood drawn over his head. He is holding a small, trusting bird against his chest, his eyes closed in prayer, or perhaps gazing down tenderly.

This statue had stood under the cottonwood tree year after year. It was a marvel of Granny’s household, having survived three major hurricanes without tipping over, even though it was a knee high concrete statue anyone could lift.

One night, however, the St. Francis’ face had been vandalized; spray painted an ugly red and black. I planned to fix that.

None of us knew much about St. Francis the person.

How a st. francis statue changed my life

We had heard he had been known to communicate with animals.

Granny was in the habit of adopting injured, stray and abandoned animals to the point her house was filled with them. (It’s a good thing she cleaned all the time!) Most of her grocery bill was for pet food, and the veterinarian down the road heard from her often.

Generally Granny had a rough, colorful personality. However, she would break down sobbing over the suffering or death of an animal.

She had a special love for birds, and daily fed the ones who frequented her back yard. Crowds of them weighed down the branches of the giant oleanders, and sang in the orange and mulberry trees around her garage each evening. A few sea gulls usually circled above. She would hear their “racket,” and go out to her waiting admirers.

She would raise an old metal trash can lid, turned up and filled with birdseed high above her head, and a whirl wind of wings would surround her. Some of the birds settled on her shoulders, or even in the palm of her hand. It looked like magic.

She had the quaint habit of talking to animals seriously, as if they were people, and they seemed to listen to her.

A saint who could commune with animals would naturally interest her. I had only recently begun to believe in God, and to learn to pray and meditate a little. I was not open to religion.

I thought it would be nice, however, to learn about St. Francis while I worked on his statue.

So we would put on a pot of coffee now and then each day, and as she worked her trade of re-weaving,*  I sat on the floor by her work table. As I had done since I was a little girl, I read aloud to her.

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I don’t know what I expected, but The Way of St. Francis by Fr. Murray Bodo, was a very reflective book. Reflective Christianity was a new experience for me.

I was impressed with the author’s depth, warmth, humility, and spirituality.

St. Francis surprised me, too. His Christian faith made him more authentic rather than less so. His unabashed love for Jesus led him to embrace people and ideas he had always been afraid of, and to renounce social acceptability when it got in the way of going where God, where love, was leading him.

Because he wanted to be a faithful Christian, he practiced radical inclusiveness, and unconditional love.

Because He loved God, He loved the created world for His sake.

He did delightfully crazy things.

He was charming and challenging.

He was adventurous and full of joy, love, and humility, ready for anything.

I had never heard of living simply, in solidarity with the poor, out of love for “the poor Christ,” or of voluntary poverty as a spiritual discipline.

It was healing for me that he did not seem to trample on other people’s feelings or their sense of self. Instead, they were won over by his kindness and love, his respect, his happiness, and by the fact that he really did visibly live what he believed in, even down to his love and obedience toward Church authority.

He knew suffering, but he found inner joy from knowing God, and from loving with abandon.

I felt very impressed with the beautiful, joyful life of love St. Francis lived.

As I sanded the statue, and carefully painted it in calming shades of blue and gray, I found myself thinking about him and smiling.

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I had not known it was possible to listen for the voice of God in one’s heart, and to actually be inspired be that.

Striving for a certain type of life was also a new idea for me.

I loved learning about Francis’ soul friend, St. Clare. I had never heard of contemplative Christianity before. What a deep, poetic, courageous woman. She was the first of many women mystics I would read from or about in the years ahead, opening my heart, a little more at a time, to God and prayer.

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Granny and I both loved the stories about St. Francis. Of course she really liked hearing that he had preached to the birds, and tamed the wolf of Gubio. My favorite was the surprising story of Francis and the Damietta prostitute. 

I was inspired to memorize the St. Francis prayer, and to use it as a point of meditation for years to come. Later, Granny sent me a prayer card of it that I still have.

Over the next several years, I would sand down and re-paint the statue on my lone visits to Granny. It became a kind of ritual for me.

Granny started to talk to St. Francis over her morning coffee on the back porch before she got to her work, and at other times during the day, and to pray more often.

I earnestly tried to begin to live a spiritual life and to learn to love, little by little.

I don’t know if all of my attempts were directly inspired by St. Francis, but I think he and his example had a lot to do with it.

I tried several things that changed the way I lived and saw the world.

I began to try to reach out and connect with people even though that was hard for me, and to try to see the good in everyone.

I got over my embarrassment and started to talk to homeless people whenever I saw them, to give them what I could, to hug them if it was OK with them.

I attempted to smile from the heart at every human being I saw. I still try to do that.

I became more interested in prayer.

I made conscious efforts to live more simply, as a spiritual practice, and so that I could share more with others.

I recognized joy, love, and humility, as virtues to respect, to look for and see in others, to hope for, for myself.

I rediscovered my childhood connection to nature and to animals. I saw beauty more and more, and learned how to drink it in and enjoy it.

I started to notice my hardness of heart and to try to become more open and loving.

I was not about to become a Christian, (so I thought.) But getting to know St. Francis began to give me new ideas about life and about God.

Many things happened over time that drew me slowly into the Catholic Church, and inspired me to live the faith as fully as possible. Maybe my friend, St. Francis was helping me along.

Eventually, my granny was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic. She chose the name Francis at her Confirmation.

When she was asked, “Ruth, what do you ask of God’s Church?” She unconsciously went “off script” and answered from the heart, “I want to love and to be loved.” Everyone smiled.

That St. Francis statue stands faithfully at my grandmother’s grave today. It is even more worn by the weather now, into a wonderful blend of shades and textures from years of being outside, and from my different loving restorations of it. Since I set it there beside her head stone, I have chosen not to repaint it anymore. It is beautiful just as it is.

How a St. Francis statue changed my life

*Re-weaving was the trade of re-weaving cloth that had holes, flaws or tears in it, making it look new. My grandmother was the last re-weaver in Texas.

Soul and Service

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 Pope Francis has said, “Do not be afraid to go out to encounter the marginalized. You will find you are going out to meet Jesus.” Dr. Esther Miranda is always up to something in this regard and she is practically bursting with ideas, projects and collaborations, with stories of soul and service.   

Esther moved to Bryan-College Station thirty years ago, having grown up in India in the presence of Mother Teresa where the Missionaries of Charity used to meet in her grandfather’s house.  “Poverty is much more visible there. Every day there were people at our gate.” Early in life she learned how much getting to know the poor could open her eyes, and she was inspired to do more. 

When she came to College Station for the first time, she thought, “OH what a beautiful town!” It seemed so clean and prosperous. She didn’t even see any poor people around. She assumed this was because there were none. She volunteered at St. Vincent de Paul Society, a Catholic organization that works with people in need (where she is now Vice President,) and was quickly disabused of this notion. “There were people living with no windows, no bed, no electricity! There might be eight people sleeping on the floor, getting up and working all the time but there was no food in the kitchen!”  

“It’s about opening eyes, Shawn, opening eyes.” 

She goes on to say passionately, “We are the hands and feet and heart of Jesus in this messy world! Sometimes we have to reveal the mess to do any good!” 

Her favorite representation of Jesus is of him as the Good Shepherd knocking on the door for us. “He is there waiting! In quiet, just ask him to tell you about himself.”  

She doesn’t think that is all we should do though. 

“So many people want to talk talk talk talk about knowing Jesus.” She thinks the proof is in what we do. As St. Teresa of Avila said, our prayer must lead us to good works. 

Esther says, “You want to know Jesus, get in my car! I’ll show you!” 

If you’re nervous about meeting those in poverty or crisis, remember, “You don’t have to have all the answers for them. More than anything, listen. They need that! It’s good for us too. We shouldn’t assume they have nothing to teach us.” 

Pope Francis says, “The poor always evangelize us  because they show us the true Face of the Father.” 

After the martyrdom of Pope Sixtus in Rome (259AD,) St. Lawrence was ordered to turn the treasures of the Church over to the Roman government in accordance with the law that an executed Christian should have his property confiscated. 

First, Lawrence distributed every bit of it to the poor. 

 Then he presented himself to the prefect, and when ordered to deliver, he presented the indigent, the crippled, the blind, the sick and the poor. “These are the true treasures of the Church!” 

“OOOOOOH! I LOVE THAT STORY!” cries Dr. Miranda. Of course she does. It’s her story; holding dear and caring for the true treasures of the Church.  

Some have objected, “The job of the Church is evangelization.” Esther doesn’t see the conflict. She is evangelizing!

“ Have you ever seen anyone come to church from preaching? I haven’t! If people’s physical and emotional needs aren’t met, none of that stuff makes any sense to them! They can feel Jesus in a warm meal, in someone who cares. They aren’t waiting for a Bible verse, they need someone to care about them and to show it!”     

She repeats several times her favorite maxim, “REACH BEFORE YOU TEACH!” 

“When someone is hungry and has no place to sleep or take a shower, you give them these things, and you listen to their stories. This is what they need, and to know somebody cares. The next morning, maybe they are feeling a little bit better. You get them some coffee and maybe after breakfast you can say, ‘Would you like to pray with me?’ They may say, ‘yes I would love that,’ or maybe not, or maybe they will do it because you have been kind to them.” We should never judge them or require them to do anything in order to be helped. Always respect their dignity. Then maybe you can find out what to do next to help them along their way. 

She says maybe you have planted a seed just giving them a good example of a Christian who is kind and compassionate. “Today this is not the impression a lot of people have of us and it’s very sad. If we can help them see the heart of Jesus in us we will have done something important.”

Dr. Miranda has some tips for being a better listener with people who are in trouble.  “If you are talking, ask yourself, ‘Why am I talking?’  Remember to slow down, to pause, to listen. Own what you are about and remember that listening doesn’t threaten that. Welcome what they have to say.” 

Esther started a furniture ministry five years ago that has grown from two volunteers to thirty- two and has helped two hundred and fifty local families in need so far.  

St. Vincent de Paul and the furniture ministry are not all she wants to do. Esther decided to spend “the year of Covid,” calling every organization that does anything for the poor, getting to know the work they do. She asked each one, “Tell me what doesn’t happen, what frustrates you, what you wish somebody would do.” She found out there was so much she didn’t know about what others were doing. 

She realized, “Our beautiful town needs a community center that does not seek to duplicate the work anyone else is already doing. We need a place where anyone, regardless of who they are, can come, where they can easily get answers! When people are in the depths of despair, they don’t need yet another brochure or list of numbers to call, that may end up being a wild goose chase or a series of dead ends. They don’t need to be told to fill out a form online when they don’t have a computer!” 

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Dr. Miranda envisions a place where a single mom can come in and use the computers for her children’s homework, even ask someone to hold the baby for her. 

“If people have one problem, there are a whole slew of problems, complex problems,” she says. We can have the information right there and call for them, help them fill out the forms they need to fill out right there!” 

She wants people to be able to come in and be given a cup of coffee or something to eat, have someone listen to them as long as is needed, and walk them through their next steps.  

She wants there to be not only a focus on service and collaboration but on education and leadership. There can be skills classes people need to better their lives, classes for people who want to serve, programs to train young people to be community leaders. “Government and churches cannot fix these problems alone. It takes small groups of committed, like- minded people.” 

Dr. Miranda is “so grateful, so grateful” for all of the people who have joined her on this journey. “So many wonderful people!” She welcomes everyone to join her in this new echumenical collaboration. 

She has dreamed of this but she felt that Jesus said to her not long ago, “Esther! What are you waiting for?” 

“So I have to go forward in faith! And Jesus has never once let me down! Everything comes to me when I have that attitude! If one organization or one person won’t help, I try not to let it anger me too much or discourage me! I move on! I move on to the next one, and the next one, and the next! And it’s working! It’s coming together! God is making it happen!” 

As for us who are among the more materially fortunate, she says, “We all need places where we can go to get closer to Jesus.” This center will be one. 

  • This piece originally appeared in The Bryan-College Station Eagle newspaper in my monthly column. This is the extended uncut interview with Dr. Miranda

I hear you.

Our Lady of Sorrows 2021

May 23 2021, a young black man was shot to death by police in front of my apartment. During the commotion that preceded the shooting I had rushed onto my balcony. I saw the whole thing. I called out to him while he lay in the parking lot as the police shouted at him to put his hands up. He couldn’t seem to do it so I was saying, “You can do it please do as they say! I’m praying for you!” I didn’t want them to shoot him again. Finally he was able to raise one shaking hand. He couldn’t seem to bring up the other arm.

He had come out of his apartment (next to mine) waving a gun earlier. When I saw that I knew they were going to shoot him. I decided that I was not going to turn away from what was about to happen. I felt I had no right to. I should remain.

As soon as he had finally put one hand up, a couple of officers turned him over on his face. It was raining. The parking lot has a lot of cracks and dips in it, repairs in the shape of square patches. He was in a bit of a puddle, still alive. His pants had fallen down when he was turned, exposing his naked butt and nobody pulled his pants up for him. The blood from his chest began seeping into the water around him.

That’s the scene that runs through my mind at least once a day.

He had looked so shocked when they shot him. He swayed and looked around at all the faces in front of him; each human face in the arc of police who had fanned out and then closed in. He looked at everyone before he collapsed.

Another neighbor had been caught between two cars and was hunched down crying. I went downstairs to hug her even though she was talking to her son on her cell phone. I heard the young man’s girlfriend screaming and the police shouting at her to stay back. I ran over there, worried she would get herself shot too, or arrested. I put my arms around her and reminded her that he needed her now, and she wanted to be able to be there for him so she should comply. She called to him that she loved him and she was there and she wasn’t going anywhere. She stayed back.

However when she saw her mother across the parking lot she ran to her with police shouting at her the whole way so I went with her and said over and over that she was just going to her mother. As we went past the stretcher, my arm brushed the young man accidentally and his head lolled to the side.

Everything happened so fast that day. I don’t know how objective I could ever be about something like this. I’m not trying to be.

I’m also not writing down everything that happened. These are the parts that have stayed with me the most, that tend to replay for me.

Soon after, maybe the next day, I saw a woman downstairs obviously overcome with traumatic grief. I went out on my balcony not knowing what to do but wanting to do something for her. She looked up at me so I called down to her and asked if she would like a hug. She said she would and I went down and held her close. She needed to sit down so we halfway got in her car and I held onto her.

“I can’t believe they shot my baby! How could they do that?”

There was nothing to say except “I don’t know.” Because that is the truth about these things. We can never understand them no matter what anyone says. At the bottom there is just no real answer.

This is what I am thinking about on this memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. We can say all of these exalted things about Mary’s sorrow and I know they are all true. But maybe we love her best when we remember that no answer satisfies a mother’s shattered heart.

Happy Birthday Mother Mary

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Today, September 8, is Mother Mary’s birthday! (Well we don’t know when it actually was but we celebrate it today!) Time to burn rose incense and get out all of her baby pictures and make a cake! (Chocolate! What other kind would she eat?) Happy birthday to our mother, our sister, our Queen, the one who was continually amazed. In her companionship may we come to live in a state of wonder as we follow her Son at her side.

Here is a little family prayer service I used to do with my kids before we had Mary’s birthday cake and that I will be doing with my daughter and granddaughter this evening.

(You might set a statue of Mary on the table, and any flowers or candles you may have.)

Opening Prayer:

Leader: We give thanks for the gift that Mary is in our lives in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

All: Amen

Reader:

A reading from the book of Judith (13:18)

“Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth.”

Petitions:

Leader: St. Therese the Little Flower said she felt bad for you, Mary, because unlike herself, you don’t have a Blessed Virgin Mary to love! Thank you Mary, for your gift of self.

Respond All: Be blessed, sweet Mother of God.

You are the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel; you are the fairest honor of our race. We praise God because of you.

Be blessed, sweet Mother of God.

Pray for us, Holy Mother, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Be blessed, sweet Mother of God.

May we live in your kindly companionship, meditating in our hearts on the Gospel your Son with love.

Be blessed, sweet Mother of God

Leader:

Happy Birthday to you, dawn of our salvation, lover of God, friend as we follow him.

(Pray together a Marian Prayer such as the Hail Mary)

Sing happy birthday.

Close by blessing the cake and allowing the youngest person present to blow out the candles.

Mary, we love you! Happy birthday!

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It’s been a couple minutes

I’ve been gone forever. There are a lot of reasons for this. One of them is that I was writing a book. I tried to keep up with my other writing but I could only keep up with my column at the paper and even so I often used old material. It seemed like even when I wasn’t engaged in writing my book, I was constantly writing it in my mind, or reflecting on an idea for one of the devotional entries.

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The book is about friendship with Mary, based on the fact that Mary is real and accessible. I really had fun writing…. when I wasn’t agonizing. It is a devotional with reflections on Mary and her contemplative spirituality, her role in our lives; the sneaky ways she leads us to Jesus, and to deeper and deeper prayer. Each devotional is followed by an imaginative sequence about coming to Mary’s House to hang out with her. In the appendix I have written about how to get started with contemplative prayer: four different methods and some tips and words of encouragement.

I turned it in on August 31, which was so scary. Here goes. I hope they like it!

What happens next is that it will be in editing for a while.

I chose an artist who has done a wondrous job creating art that fits beautifully with the book. Hopefully they will like it too at Our Sunday Visitor!

My friends and family have put up with hearing the parts I was working on over and over and over! And also listening to me freak out.

Mary, I have really enjoyed this year and a half writing about you. It seems like this little book of 30,000 words should be so much longer for all the time it took to write. But truly, that is just how long it took. It was an adventure with you and you took me in different directions at times than I expected. I feel closer to you because of it. I pray others will feel closer to you, too when they read and pray along with it. I hope this book has made you happy.

And so, reader, just so you know, that’s what I have been up to. Hopefully I can think of other things to write about now sometimes.

My book’s working title is Come to Mary’s House. I will let you know what happens next with it.

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Our Lady of Sorrows

The profound suffering of another person is frightening to be present to. When my husband’s cancerous brain tumor came back after two years of remission, he asked to be alone for a while. When he wanted me there I came and got into his chair with him and held him. I listened to him talk about his feelings of raw desolation, anger, and even shame, of terror, of feeling there was no comfort anywhere.

I had no mitigating words to say. Even if I had they would have been inappropriate and insensitive. Even with the intense devotion and deep bond I had with him, there were moments I wanted to run out in the back yard away from the enormity of what he was expressing. So I prayed as I listened; just the names of Jesus and Mary every time that urge came up. That simple effort made me able to share that space with him.

When he eventually asked how I felt about this on a spiritual level, all I had was the fact of Christ’s suffering. At least as we went through this we had a God who didn’t die in a shower of rose petals but naked and bleeding like an animal, nailed to a cross, with a cry of spiritual abandonment only just having died on his lips.

My husband nodded gravely.

I thought of Mary, surrounded by mockers, violent men, her weeping friends, silently sharing the space with her Son.

I believe she was near to me as I tried to open my heart to its fullest in the weeks that followed; through Bobs creeping paralysis, his growing confusion, his final inability to speak. She was close, I know, when I tried to surrender with love at the right time to set my husband free when he was ready.

Mary was the face of love to Jesus as he suffered. I tried to be that too, to lay my own grief aside. I have no doubt that is what she did at the Cross. I am sure she thought to herself, “I will grieve later. Right now I have to be here for him, I want to look at his beautiful living face as long as I can in these last moments.” I am sure about this because when you love, that is what you do.

May Our Lady pray for us when we are called to walk with someone who suffers terribly, which all of us are in some way at some time. May she companion us when we must find a way to love more than we feel able, to seek the true meaning of profound compassion that she embodied at the scene of her Son’s execution.

Triumph of the Cross

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, which is essentially God’s kind of win, so different from our own. The cross isn’t about leaving anyone humiliated or diminished. There is no gloating involved, and no revenge. No one who does not want to be left out is left out.

Jesus took all the negative consequences of both “winning” and” losing” all on himself for his kind of triumph. Love always redeems, lifts up, and seeks out the other. Love sacrifices. Love believes in the loved one’s ability to be made new by the experience. All those Psalms asking God to break our enemies cheekbones and all that perhaps startle when we read them. However, in light of the Triumph of the Cross, they seem so different now that we know what Jesus considers defeating the enemy; turning someone’s belligerence, their attachment to all the wrong things, into their own deliverance.

God’s kind of win is a real win, and that win is for everybody, regardless of our human games, our social understandings of competition and power.

So never be turned back from love, oh soul. That’s what winning is.

We adore you O Christ and we praise you

because by your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the World

Our Lady of Guadalupe at the Walmart Memorial in El Paso

Fifteen or more years ago I had a dream that is still vivid to me now. I was in a small, dimly lit church where the early arrivals were just sitting down before mass. Near the altar there was a large terra cotta colored relief of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I was standing in the aisle gazing at this rendering of Our Lady and it started to become beautifully colorful. A man in the pews to my right started complaining about the image and saying there were too many (*racial slur*) around here already and the image should be removed. He continued to complain about dark skinned people being in the church and “taking over.” I was extremely upset of course and started begging him not to say things like that especially in the church. As I continued to try to persuade him, the corner of Mary’s dress began to darken as if it were burning and smoke started rising. I was alarmed as I saw the disfiguring burn spread across the image.

I was in El Paso staying in a migrant shelter, attending what is called “The Border Awareness Experience,” to learn about Immigration issues. Everyone had been in Juarez that morning, we had met at a section of the iron border fence with Border Patrol and now we were getting out of the van at the Walmart in El Paso to visit the memorial for the victims of the shooting that had happened eight weeks before on August 3, 2019.

It was a very hot October afternoon. The sunlight was golden and slanting in beams when we got out of the van.

We had all seen makeshift memorials that spring up after tragic events on the news. I knew this would be a sad experience.

I was not prepared. The emotional impact of being on the spot was immense.

The memorial stretched into probably about three city blocks. There was an army of religious candles stretching as far as I could make out. There were stuffed animals, pictures of the dead, messages to the dead, messages of encouragement to the community, poems, letters, prayers. There were flags from other countries, a big poster of a fused Mexican and American flag that said, “Together against all odds.” There was a letter to the president pleading for understanding, mercy toward immigrants, and change. It was in Spanish so I asked Maria from our group to translate for me.

A big red poster near the middle said,

“PAIN…. but I will not let it turn to hate.”

man wearing blue dress
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There was a large picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, banners with Bible verses, a message of solidarity from the city of San Antonio, more messages, more prayers, toys of the little child who was killed. I remember a most the toy train draped in rosaries. A massive number of flowers and rosaries populated the entire area. There were numerous statues and pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I thought about my dream.

A young white supremacist drove 11 hours from Dallas to El Paso to “kill Mexicans.” I can only guess he chose El Paso because of the spirit of friendship and community between the sister cities. Maybe he hated what El Paso represents. Maybe he wanted to do this at the border where people from both sides shop together. I don’t know. His manifesto had talked about “an invasion” referring to migrants and refugees and Hispanics in general I suppose. I had not read it. No need. I had been seeing the results of its ideology for days.
Actually I wasn’t thinking about any of these things at the time. I was overwhelmed with the emotional impact of the place. We all were. It was riveting. It was devastating. I think we were all in shock.

Eventually I sat down near a bank of flowers to pray. In my dream of Our Lady the loud racist man perhaps couldn’t see the destruction of her image he was causing. People get so upset about sacrilege of religious images. I understand that. But what about the people at the Border who are images of God, treated without dignity or compassion, let alone the scores of them who have died because of our indifference? Isn’t that a much more serious desecration? I had seen only some of what our country has done to migrants. I had only been at Casa Vides a couple days and I felt inundated with the suffering and injustice so many people back home justified and even applauded.

In the presence of this great outcry of shock and pain that was this memorial, I could only sit with God and hold my rosary. No words of prayer came to me. It could only be a prayer of presence and solidarity.

person holding brown wooden cross
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A woman I thought seemed like recently bereaved family thanked us for coming. I recognized the deep pain in her eyes and that aura of grief around her shoulders like a heavy black shawl that weighed her down.

When we got back into the van some of our group were crying. Nobody wanted to talk.

Chris, our leader during the Border Awareness Experience, a volunteer at the shelter, said he knew we were feeling upset but we were running a little late for our last meeting of the day at Hope Border Institute so we just had a few minutes while we drove to get ourselves regathered. So we tried.

I think seeing this place would have hurt deeply no matter what. But after what we had been learning about Border issues, having met the migrants Casa Vides was serving and having heard their stories, the experience hit us particularly hard. As we pulled away I thought of Jesus saying that when we hate our brothers and sisters, we have already committed murder in our hearts. That scene of physical mass murder was the result of collectively harbored hate, fear and resentment and anti-immigrant sentiment in our country. Something like that shooting was bound to happen. And if we don’t change, it will keep happening.

We pulled up at Hope Border Institute with the Diocese of El Paso. Their work centers around applying Catholic Social teaching to Immigration Issues.

Toward the end of various presentations, one man on staff named Dylan gave us an extemporaneous discourse on what Our Lady of Guadalupe means to migrants. Her image is ubiquitous in El Paso, in every place you go, there she is. I remember him saying that she came for and represented the Spanish and the Indigenous of Mexico, not either/or, herself a bridge between two cultures, similar to the migrants who have had to leave their home countries but don’t yet belong to their new one.

She appeared to St. Juan Diego, an indigenous Catholic convert. She was brown skinned as he was, (probably close to what she looked like during her historical life) and dressed like an Aztec maiden. Specifically, she looked Mestiza, a combination of Spanish and Native. She gave the gift of miraculous Castilian roses for the Spanish Bishop, the roses he missed from home, miraculously growing in the snow when she spoke to St. Juan. She said, “I am the perfect and ever-virgin Mary, Mother of God.” the name Guadalupe itself would have mean something to the Native people and the Spanish. “She who treads on the snake” to the Aztecs and a reference to another image of her in Spain. She wanted to comfort her children and hear their cries in the new church she asked for. Her image appeared instantaneously on the cloak of St. Juan Diego in the Bishop’s presence. Hundreds of years later it is still fresh, new and relevant. A microscope shows that in the pupils of her eyes, a reflection of the people in the room at the time her image appeared. We are all in her sight, she is here with us and she loves us.

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Photo by Chris F on Pexels.com

Dylan pointed out that in the impression, her knee is out to show she is dancing. She is pregnant. She is praying.

She is about presence, compassion, hope and new life, about the coming together of two peoples as one in Christ.

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Night will be no more, Pastoral letter on racism from Bishop Mark Seitz in the wake of the shooting.

Solidarity and Love: #BlackLivesMatter

Yesterday I walked in a peaceful (though good and loud) Black Lives Matter protest in Houston in response to the murder by police of George Floyd and by the long list of black men and women who have also been killed by police.

It was a powerful experience.

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My daughter drove us so even though traffic was slow and she didn’t know where she could park, I jumped out of the car right away with my sign, my phone in my back pocket and joined the chanting throng streaming into the street from Discovery Green.

It felt so good to be able to do something, to show support at this time along with so many others of every possible race and ethnicity. I saw “Arabs for Black Lives” t-shirts. I saw Jewish men with their prayer shawls on. I saw Hispanic people, Asian people, and plenty of other white people. There were families with their children too. Mostly I saw everywhere beautiful black people standing up for themselves, and for their murdered brothers and sisters and their families, supporting one another, demanding righteous change. It was awe inspiring.

One of the chants were the last words of George Floyd, “I can’t breathe!” He also had said to please let him up and that they were killing him. And he called out for his mother. There was so much heartbreak that day at the protest that at times it seemed like a funeral. Sure enough that is partly what it was. As the leaders of the March said, “We are here to lift up his name.”

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That was another chant: “SAY HIS NAME!” And the response, “GEORGE FLOYD!” Over and over they said this and I think it is so important. We should not forget the individual people who have died in the seemingly never ending stream of police violence against people of color. They were people, individuals. We are standing up for them specifically, as well as the entire African American community.

“BLACK LIVES MATTER,” of course, was shouted throughout.

*For the “all lives matter” crowd, maybe I can be of some help as to what “Black Lives Matter” means and why it is a non starter to keep saying that.

My friend, here is what I gather about this: black people are telling us they feel their lives don’t matter to us. Can you blame them? They are not trying to tell us other people’s lives don’t matter. They are asking us to notice what’s happening when they say that. And they are reminding themselves that their lives matter in the face of all this. When people say back “all lives matter” it sounds like “you aren’t suffering from this,” “It’s all in your head,” or worse, “We don’t care.”

Suppose a fire truck arrives at your home as it is burning and begins to fight the flames; and a neighbor runs up yelling at the firemen, “all homes matter.” Think about it, or better yet, pray about it.
-Julian Mcmurrey

We marched to the courthouse where there were speeches I couldn’t hear very well. I understood that at least one woman who spoke was a mother of another black man killed by police. The drift of what a lot of the speakers were saying, though was that we should not stop here with this protest, that there is a lot of work to be done once we got back to our lives.

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Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez on Pexels.com

There were signs about different organizations and their websites so people could follow up on their commitment. I will include a couple of these at the end of this post.

It annoyed me that there were drones buzzing around close enough we could have swatted them. Helicopters flew overhead constantly. Eventually we noticed snipers on the roof of the court house and on other nearby buildings.

“See?” a woman said to me, “They don’t even care about us. We’re trying to speak out but they aren’t listening. This is how they do.” It was over kill, I thought. And so many children in the crowd too.

I texted my daughter who had her little one with her, and told her about the snipers. That was her cue to head in another direction. (By the way I also told other people coming into the area who had children with them as well.)

I stayed a while longer. Eventually, after a couple of hours, I started to head back to the car.

A couple of women from the march stopped me and wanted to take a picture of me with my sign. I said sure I would be honored. My sign was a quote from Pope Francis, “Racism is the greatest evil in our world today.” I had a bright red rosary wrapped around my wrist. Its dangling cross against my hand reminded me constantly of what I was doing there. I absolutely considered it my Christian duty to be there. I wanted to bring Jesus and Mary with me to love the people and stand with them, to try to radiate their love and solidarity. Also I was there as a Catholic. If anybody noticed my rosary maybe they would know “Catholics (some Catholics) “are with you.”
That was my idea anyway.

Volunteers were on corners handing out masks (I already had one) and water bottles. It was so hot so I took one. Im glad I did because after that my phone went dead and my daughter and I had a harrowing few hours where we couldn’t find each other.

I also couldn’t find my way back to the car although I had a general idea where it was.

I got kind of lost but then I managed to get back to the courthouse. There was a group of women on a corner there talking about prayer not being enough, and how God expects us to take action too. (I have noticed this too about God.)

“Its the Holy Spirit,” another woman said. “This is the Holy Spirit.”

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Photo by Ezekixl Akinnewu on Pexels.com

I asked if they could point me back to Discovery Green because I hadn’t paid attention to the route we all took earlier, having been too excited to do so. They laughed kindly about that and said all we had done is go straight down the street behind them. It would take me straight to Discovery Green.

They liked my sign and I told them I had carried it in the Richard Spencer protest at Texas A & M too. One lady asked if I knew my daughter’s number. No I did not. She asked if Roise was on Social Media, and eventually she found her and sent her an instagram message for me that I was headed to the car.

Expressing my gratitude I started to pick up my sign and go. An older lady said she had an assignment for me once I got safe home. I was eager to hear it. She said, “Memorize. Your daughter’s. Number!” “I know right? Thanks ya’ll, for telling my daughter her ridiculous mother is headed her way.”

They thanked me earnestly for being there that day. I hadn’t expected that and I didn’t feel I really deserved it since it was something I wanted to do. But I knew what she meant. And I said thanks for having me.

Actually my daughter and I got that all day from people, “Thank you for being here.” Silly us! We hadn’t been quite sure we would be welcome or if it was appropriate. We know this is a black lead movement and we want to support that. Sometimes it just isn’t clear to us as white allies learning on the job, what we should do. I feel like I understand a little better now.

A long, tired, hot time later, I finally found the car. Two other people let me use their phones to try to call my daughter on social media along the way. “This is mom. I’m at the car.” I also had good conversations with them.

Of course my girl had the keys. Exhausted, I climbed on top of the car with my sign and prayed the rosary. After a while though, I started to get scared. Where was she? Did she get held up? What should I do if she never came back? What if something bad happened to her or the baby? My other daughter, I reflected, was going to kill me if anything happened. She had been very upset and scared that we were coming to this, given what happened in Minneapolis. I started to get that cold feeling you get in your stomach when you are really worried.

I saw a group of police officers getting out of a car near me. One of them pulled his baton out and said, “Yeah now we’re going to have some fun.” He caught my eye and looked (appropriately) a little embarrassed. As far as I know he never got to have any “fun.” For which I am grateful. I should say though that the police I saw around yesterday were trying to be relaxed and non intrusive.

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On I waited. I checked nearby restaurants. No luck. I went back to my car.

I think I had been sitting on the car for an hour and a half before I happened to look up at the right time and see my daughter, pushing the stroller a couple blocks down. I was astonished when she didn’t turn to come down the street where the car was.

After thinking about why she would do that, I scrambled down from the car and took off running. When I got to the street she was on, she seemed hopelessly far away. So I put on the mom voice I used to call my daughters home with when they were out playing in the neighborhood as kids. “ROSAAAAAAAAAAAAY!” A man nearby resting with his sign on his lap chuckled.

To my relief she turned around and started coming toward me. I jogged toward her and was surprised to see she had been crying. She started crying when I hugged her and said she had gotten lost and her GPS was acting crazy, sending her all over the place. She had gotten overheated and collapsed and some people from the protest had helped her up, some talking brightly to her daughter as other people gave her water and stood by until she had drunk the entire bottle. They had her sit on a curb with them until she was better. Someone called her phone and helped her find it. They gave her directions to Discovery Green but she stopped to get a soda at a pub which made her sick and she promptly forgot the way. My granddaughter, Arelani, was glad to see me. She started chattering like the loquacious little being she is.

I walked them back to the car and drove us out of the city and toward home.

We were kind of in awe about the day, grateful there was at least something we could do, and so glad of all the kind people we had met, and how amazing the solidarity and unity had been. So many people, thousands of people, coming together to do a good thing, a holy thing, really. It had felt sacred to me, as well as sad and angry and hopeful too. It was motivating and we intend to do whatever we can to help out in future.

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Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez on Pexels.com

I want to say that our dearest black friends were very supportive. LeeAnne and her husband said “God bless you.” Mel told me to play Bob Marley on the way there for him. Between Mel and me this is how I keep him present at special times, like when I am making his birthday spice cake every year. He and his wife Lilly sent pictures of themselves to me too so I could carry them with me. My daughter’s best friend wept when she told her where we were going. “Why are you crying?” “I just feel thankful that y’all are doing this.” We hadn’t expected that but I think it is worth noting.

I remembered an article I had seen, and the photo in it of a big sign that said, “White people. Do Something.” Maybe it felt to them that we were responding. And that is what the black community wants from us, y’all. That’s what they want. For us to listen to what they want to say to us, to care and respond and be willing to help the way they want to be helped with this.

I’m slow but I am learning.

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In the car, my four year old granddaughter, who is half African American, started chanting “BLACK YIVES MATTER! BLACK YIVES MATTER!” And “GEORGE FYOYD! GEORGE FYOYD!” Well, she had heard those things a lot today. We took video of her doing this and sent it to her dad (who is black.) It was adorable but also touching to see her do that. This is all also about her and her future.

On the way home we got a flat tire. I had forgotten my spare had been stolen so we were in a pickle. A friend picked us up and we are home safe and incredibly tired today. But it is a “good tired.”

In spite of the trouble, we are both profoundly glad we went, honored to have been there, to have been a part of it.

*photos not taken by my daughter, Roise Manning-Pauc, have been used with permission from the photographers.

Think Twice (Before you call the police, consider these alternatives.)

What white people can do for racial justice

Racial justice organizations that you should support

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