Friday, June 22, 2007
Walking the Walk Along The Migrant Trail
CT: What was the original impetus for the Migrant Trail Walk?
Friar Adrian Peelo (AP): I believe it started with a group of friends who decided to walk in solidarity with the migrants and who decided they would continue to walk until the issue was settled.
Friar David Buer (DB): That’s right. When the walls were put up along the border in urban areas, it created a "funnel effect" which has lead to deaths in the desert. It is estimated that last year (2006) alone, between 200-250 migrants died in the Tucson sector alone. A total of about 4000 have died along the entire border in the last ten years. And these are only the known deaths, where the bodies have been found.
CT: Who were the sponsors of this year’s event?
DB: This year’s event was supported by a wide range of groups, both faith-based and others, including Derechos Humanos, Humane Borders, No More Deaths, Phoenix, and Borderlinks. Faith-based groups included the Casa Maria Catholic Worker, Catholic Relief Services, and the Franciscans’ JPIC (Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation Office) for the Province of St. Barbara. The Mennonite Central Committee (West Coast Region) was also involved, as well as one wonderul Buddhist monk.
CT: A Buddhist monk?
Adrian Peelo (AP). Yes, his name is Arjahn Sarayut. He’s from Thailand and works in Tucson. He told us he came out of his own curiosity and because of his work with border issues. You know, it was quite extraordinary. I had come to help as a support person for the group. So as the friars were getting out of the car, I said, “ You know, wouldn’t it be great to have Buddhist monks in this?” Then, just as they went off, I looked out the window, and there was a Buddhist monk in his saffron robes was standing right there!” We started chatting and he ended up cooking several meals for the group himself and bringing food to the marchers. We were like a little community together. He had a Franciscan humility, a generosity about him. He wanted to help, to do as much as he could.
CT: Adrian, how did you get involved in the Trail Walk?
AP: You know, people on the margins, on the periphery of society are often so desperate/. They can be hurt or even killed—exploited so easily because they have so few resources to serve them. ….The receiving community needs to be more sensitive and welcoming to them.....I can’t help thinking of my own country’s history—of people fleeing Ireland during and after the Famine in the 19th century. People crossing the Atlantic, desperate for opportunities, Many of them traveled in the notorious coffin ships and never made it to America. So, for myself, I wanted to be there for others in my own lifetime. also wanted to be with the brothers, as part of the Franciscan witness. It was not a question of just hanging out; I felt a moral imperative.
CT: What about you, David? You walked for four days and helped out with the organizing committee.
DB: I remember back to 1979. I was in Chicago when Pope John Paul II was there. He told the half-million people gathered in Grant Park: “Your ancestors came here for a better life. Today, people coming from the South and the West for the same reasons.” That really affected me. Now that I live right at San Xavier, I realized—here we are giving people water, fresh clothes. (The migrants) are literally at our doorstep…. Also, my own background has been working with homeless people over the last 25 years. I've led six pilgrimage groups the 65 miles from Las Vegas to the Nevada Test Site, so I undertstood the importance of pilgrimage. When I got settled in Tucson, I got involved with human rights groups like No More Deaths and Samaritans.
CT: What did people do during the Walk?
DB: The walkers had their own daily routine: They usually got up at 5:00 AM, and were on their way by 6:00 am. It was higly disciplined. They had to take down tents, pack their gear and get it into trucks, grab a quick bite and a cup of coffee, all within an hour. Then they walked all morning until noon, stopping to camp at a prearranged site. Along the way, we had a water stop every evey 1.5 miles. And every 3 miles, there was a rest stop with snacks. The marchers averaged 10-12 miles per day.
AP: I can tell you from my experience marching last year. It’s a mixture of conversation, sharing, getting to know each other. You see, we were people of all sorts of backgrounds, in it together. There were also quiet times, as well. Times for silence, meditation, walking in a single file as well. It was very moving, very contemplative. The walk itself became a spiritual practice.
CT: How did you see your role as Franciscans?
AP: I tried to make the entire experience a spiritual practice. We talk about the preferential option for the poor (until) it is almost a cliché, but the Walk is a real testimony to that. It’s very much in keeping with our Franciscan tradition of being should to shoulder with people of different backgrounds, people of all kinds in a humble way. Here we were, inserted into the community, not looking for privileges or attention. Pitching our tents, queuing up, sharing the hardships with everyone else. It was eminently Franciscan. I reflected about St. Francis, when he moved out of the town of Assisi into the Portiuncula, near the leprosarium, beyond the safety of the city walls.
DB: I agree. It was a taste of the migrant experience. The temperatures were in the high 90s, there were rattlesnakes. Days without being able to take a shower. But the Walk itself was peaceful, nonviolent, and in solidarity with the immigrants. We Franciscans weren’t in charge, though sometimes called to say a prayer once in a while. It was definitely a ministry of presence.
CT: What did you learn from your experience?
DB: On the humility side-- even from the beginning in Sasabe-- people on the Mexcian side of the border hosted us with a delicious meal. Other groups of people lovingly provided our meals along the way, often bringing them to us in the desert wilderness. We carried three coffins to the border: representing the children, men, and women who had died crossing. At the border itself, a Native American man gave us his blessing as we entered the US.
AP: I learned the value of our being together. What unites us is our common humanity. Jesus blessed our humanity by becoming one of us. When we are united together in a common cause-- coming from different ethnic, religious backgrounds-- it begins to dawn on us what really unites us. The way we have all been created and blessed by God. We are connected to each others, responsible for each other.
CT: How this experience reinforce your own sense of vocation at Franciscans?
DB: The Franciscan presence and witness is a gift to the world. Often times the world responds positively when it sees that witness It has to do with a spirit of prayerfulness, peacefulness, and solidarity with the poor.
AP: Every time I got out of the car, people just came over to me to talk, to be blessed. I remember that at one place, the Serenity Baptist Church, the pastor called out to me: “Oh Brother!” And some of his flock came out to shake hands, I was very moved; I didn’t have to explain that I was a friar, or what that meant. It was humbling. This year I was in the background like David, but when I saw Luis and Martin all covered with dust and perspiration, I felt a huge sense of pride in the friars for giving this witnesss. It’s a wonderful way to preach the Gospel.
DB: Yes, it was great. The fraternal support of our brothers coming together, sharing this witness.
CT: Any words of encouragement to our inquirers and discerners?
DB: We’ll be marching next Memorial Day weekend, too. Join us!
Posted by Fr. Charles Talley, ofm at 8:35 PM