Jesuit Father Sean Carroll is the director of the Kino Border Initiative (KBI), a binational apostolate working to emphasize the dignity and worth of every human being in one of the most contentious and militarized conflict zones in the world, albeit among non-warring nations: the U.S.-Mexican border.
This week, we chatted in person during some preparatory meetings toward a number of larger events in the coming election season. He was able to shed insight on the work being done by KBI, and the six faith-based organizations which founded it, aimed at the common good, accompaniment of the exiled, and the pope’s call to live a life characterized by mercy.
A California province Jesuit, Father Sean was drafted — against his first inclinations — into a leadership position in the initiative named for Eusebio Kino, S.J. (1645-1711), the immigrant priest-explorer who trekked throughout Sonora and Lower California, first mapping the Baja peninsula.
KBI and its outreach partners seek to put groups (usually of high school or college students, as well as researchers and policy-makers) in direct contact with the poorest of the poor on both sides of the Nogales, Arizona border. The stories he tells of violence, sexual assault, extortion and human trafficking among the population with whom he lives each day are hair-raising. The anecdotes of indifference among church-going Catholics in the area are, at some level, even more disturbing.
Father Sean has testified before Congress on the work he does and the dire need for political, educational and pastoral changes on both sides of the border to address the heinous acts of dehumanization that occur at his doorstep nightly.
Pope Francis has continued to emphasize the traditional Catholic teaching that we are in fact our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers. The “globalization of indifference” that ruthlessly winds its way throughout our world is far from the Lord’s mandate to care for the oppressed and to dedicate ourselves to the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. The misinformation spread about immigrant populations can only be combated by fostering an authentic “culture of encounter,” the very embodiment of the work being done by the KBI and their collaborative network.
One can never become desensitized to vulnerable populations being taken advantage of for sex, labor or capital, regardless of birthplace. Of course, there are complex factors at play in what will likely be among the most the dominant themes of 21st century life: people on the move.
Demography makes clear that situations like these are not ones with clear cut answers or a quick resolution in sight. But the Christian vocation to stand in solidarity with those who suffer and to seek peace, unity and caritas in our personal and professional lives cannot be argued away by references to the free market, national security, or an “othering” and degrading commodification of people whose narratives, like any other, deserve a space in the public square.
As Father Sean says, “With each passing day, we as a country continue to separate family members through our immigration laws and our detention and deportation practices contrary to the rhetoric of family values that permeates our political discourse. This reality falls far short of what Scripture teaches regarding care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger. We can and must do better.”
Recently beatified Oscar Romero once called conversion in the face of those in need “the central truth of the Gospel.” Only with such a view in mind can one receive the riches they have to offer, and find in, through, and with them a closer relationship to the Suffering Servant whom we follow, the One who once fled to Egypt as a migrant to escape the brutality of Herod.
Information, media requests, inquiry forms and a moving video documentary are available at KinoBorderInitiative.org. Numerous visitors and advocates have returned from KBI forever changed.
Collingswood native Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., teaches at Loyola University Chicago.