We need not look further than Stewart Detention Center, just one of many immigration detention centers in the United States, to see that all too often we do not welcome the migrant stranger. For detained immigrants, heavy laden with their crosses, Stewart Detention Center is only one stop along the way to the Calvary that is deportation. In a country whose unjust system of immigration and detention creates anguish and despair rather than safety and security, where does the Spirit of Mercy and Compassion lead us? For me and many others, it leads to El Refugio (the Refuge), a small blossom of hospitality in state that is largely inhospitable to its guests.
Weekends at El Refugio are a witness to Christ’s Kingdom, where all are welcome and no one is a stranger. It is a place where families, friends and loved ones can un-shoulder the burdened crosses they carry. Every time people gather here to support one another with meals, lodging and simple presence, Christ’s reign is affirmed. At El Refugio, people who might not otherwise have crossed paths, like Simon and Christ, are brought together to bear witness to the call to share in each other’s burdens. Like Simon, we enter into one another’s places of suffering. For wives and children, that may be a place of grief over the loss of a father. For others, it may be a heart brimming with sadness after only being able to see a dear friend through Plexiglas. For our migrant brothers and sisters who are detained, that place may be one of humiliation that comes along with being caught up in a system that doesn’t recognize one’s unique story and inherent dignity.
Yet, in the midst of suffering there is grace and joy to be found in the time spent together because we all recognize that beyond Calvary, Via Dolorosa leads to the Resurrection. So it is with humble faith in the promises of Christ that all those at El Refugio continue to welcome the migrant stranger, and continue to say, “Brother, sister, hermano, hermana, if the weight is too much to bear, pass a little on to me."
Kristina Mata is a Dominican Volunteer who works at Catholic Charities of Atlanta and volunteers at El Refugio. She delivered this address at the 5th Station of the Cross during the Holy Week Pilgrimage for Immigrants on Good Friday and has graciously agreed to let LSG share her message on our blog.
Throughout the past six months, Lutheran Services of Georgia has been offering a new ministry to visit immigrants detained at Stewart Detention Center. To learn more about Friends in Hope, including the date of our next visit to the detention center, please contact Melanie Johnson, Program Manager for Volunteer, Congregation, and Community Engagement, at firstname.lastname@example.org.