by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

We know that Mother’s Day goes far beyond Hallmark sentimentality. The role of motherhood is played in myriad circumstances of life. Miriam of Nazareth is celebrated as the mother of the universal Church. And our recent practice of addressing “Our Father and Mother” in the Lord’s Prayer points to a similar maternal universality. If one name for the Holy Mystery we call God is “Mother” then naturally that divine quality includes and extends far beyond biological motherhood.

It is good, then, to remind ourselves once again today of the way numberless women (and sometimes men) act as mothers. Vowed religious women immediately come to mind. That special vocation in the Church is a sacrament of God’s all-encompassing motherhood. The People of God and the world acknowledge, admire and sincerely thank these valiant women for their ministries to humankind. We know well that other women consistently play the role of mother. Millions of daughters, sisters, aunts take the place of incapacitated or absent biological mothers.

A stark example of motherhood is the thousands of women languishing at the southern border of our country, literally and figuratively pounding on the wall of rejection of their maternal desire to provide a humane life for the children at their side.

The Assisi community in Washington, D.C., like hundreds more groups across the country, has opened its doors to immigrants who have somehow gotten through the barriers and are starting the lengthy process of legalization. They put names and faces on family histories, stories of horrendous experiences of poverty and violence in their countries of origin and in their journeys to El Norte.

One recently-arrived migrant family came for an overnight at Assisi two weeks ago – a young couple with their 5-year-old child. One of the Spanish-speaking members of the community had a lengthy conversation with the father over breakfast in the morning and heard about his torturous journey of six months from Peru to the U.S.

The family had traveled overland, through several countries and were turned away at the borders of at least two of them. When they finally managed to cross through Colombia, they faced the horrific 66-mile trip across the Darien Gap into Panama. The Gap is described as a “minefield of dense rainforest, jungle-covered mountains, swamps and poisonous snakes and tales of robbery rape and death.”

Crossing finally into Mexico the family clambered onto the roof of “The Beast,” a freight train which travels from Chiapas to the U.S. border. The journey is apocalyptic – hundreds of refugees crowded atop each freight car, freezing cold at night, unbearable heat in daytime. Our friend said he was deathly afraid that like so many others his wife or little girl might be thrown off the car like so many others when “The Beast” raced around one of its sudden curves or scraped under a bridge.

This heart-wrenching story brings us back to the wife and mother. Despite repeated attempts to engage her in conversation, she remained almost mute. Was she simply extremely shy? Or had her migration experience traumatized her into complete withdrawal? Will she ever be able to function “normally” again?

This encounter puts names and faces on the overwhelming situation as the inhumane Title 42 policy is abrogated and new crowds of women with their families arrive pleading for asylum. 

Tragically, without a sea change in global North/South overwhelming inequities there is no solution possible to this horror. 

Mother’s Day indeed!

Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.

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