Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Spiritual care of migrants in detention

A friend, Fr. Ken Gavin, SJ, is on the road in Sri Lanka this week for a meeting of Jesuit Refugee Services regional directors. Fr. Ken is one of the visiting Jesuits who celebrates Mass for the Hispanic community at St. Ann's. For those who want to know what he's up to, he is blogging regularly from the other side of the world.

Below is an excerpt and a video from his most recent post. Fr. Ken talks about ministering to the spiritual needs of migrants in detention, a theme recently taken up by Bishop John Wester, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration, at the Vatican's World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees. "Bishop Wester said the church must insist on several things: that access to detention centers and detainees is provided so that sacraments can be administered regularly; that pastoral workers can ensure detainees are being treated properly; that detainees can receive spiritual comfort and counseling; and that church workers can inform family members about how the detainees are doing...But, he said, the best way to deal with the problem is to enact comprehensive immigration reform, regularizing the status of millions of people and keeping them out of detention." (CNS)
From Fr. Ken's blog:

...I was particularly moved by the work of JRS chaplains and pastoral visitors who work in detention centers throughout Europe and U.S., caring for the spiritual needs of detained migrants and asylum seekers. It is often there — in prisons and detention facilities — the need for and the call to reconciliation is experienced most deeply.

I will never forget the story of a 22-year old Mexican migrant, Francisco-Javier, who in early 2007 was killed by a U.S. border patrol agent while attempting to cross into southern Arizona from Mexico with his two younger brothers and a sister-in-law.

None of these young people carried a weapon and, in fact, they probably froze in fear when the border patrol apprehended them. No doubt, the arresting agent, too, must have felt threatened by these four young migrants. In his fear, he pulled out his firearm and shot Francisco-Javier.

Two days later, while celebrating Mass at a detention center north of Tucson, I was introduced to Francisco-Javier’s two surviving brothers, who had been detained there at the center. Their pain was still raw and they were clearly deeply concerned about their parents in Mexico, and the wife of one of the brothers who was being detained in the women’s section of the facility.

In difficult moments like these, I ask myself how can we in JRS begin to bring even a small sense of reconciliation and peace into the lives of these broken people? How can JRS help break down barriers of fear that make groups — like migrants and border agents — stand in such great fear of one another?...

JRS/USA ministers to detainees from Jesuit Refugee Service/USA on Vimeo.

Photo: Fr. Ken Gavin, SJ -- "borrowed" from Fr. Ken's Facebook page (do I have to go to confession for that?)


  1. You're right about one thing Padre, they weren't carrying any weapons. But Pancho did as countless other illegals do when they are encountered near the border, they pick up a ROCK. Now you may fail to mention there is a video that recorded the entire incident, but I won't.
    Well Padre, watch the video, watch as Pancho picked up a rock and watch as he cocks his arm back and starts coming foward to kill the agent by hitting him in the head with the rock. but instead, in SELF DEFENSE, the agent protects his life and stupid Pancho lost his.
    How many times do people have to warn people, do not bring a rock to a gun fight.
    For a Padre, priest or however you call yourself, you are lying to everybody you tell this story. And in case you haven't picked up your Bible, it says, "Call no man on earth Father, for you Father is in Heaven.
    So my brother, stop distorting the facts. Perhaps you would let me stand 7 feet away from you and slam a rock into your head. You shouldn't object because you object when a uniformed agnet protecting his life did.
    You talk about breaking down barriers of fear, the solution is easy. Love each other and obey the laws of the land, and that right out of the Bible. The man that was killed did not have either. He neither loved the agent or obeyed the laws of this country.
    In fact, it was not either disrespect nor not enough love that brought him to his demise, it was his own self, the hate in his heart, that caused his own death. So please keep the agent in your prayers, even when somembody is forced to kill somebody, it is never easy. God Bless the Border Patrol, amen.

  2. Anonymous: Are you saying that there is a video of the specific incident involving Francisco-Javier (not just any confrontation between an undocumented border crosser and a member of the border patrol)? If so, is it publicly available somewhere?

    While I disagree with Anonymous' wedging a traditional anti-Catholic argument ("call no man father") into this debate (the traditional apologetics answer is "what do you call the man who begat you?"), I agree with his concluding statement. We should keep the members of the Border Patrol in our prayers too and it is never easy when someone is forced to kill another person. Every act of killing takes away from our common humanity.