Recently, I was blessed to accompany members of Our Lady of Lourdes’ (Minneapolis) parish justice and charity commission on a visit to its sister parish in Tijuana, Mexico: a mission run by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
As migration-related advocacy has been a significant focus of our work at the Minnesota Catholic Conference over the past decade, I thought it important to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border to encounter the realities faced by those living and migrating there. My experience there made the themes in Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) come alive.
A Church that goes forth to the peripheries
The missionary call of the Oblates is to go where no one else will. Pope Francis calls this going to the peripheries. He states: “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (EG 20).
The Tijuana mission is in the heart of the poorest parts of Tijuana, out in the desert hills where the cartels have made significant inroads. The area has grown significantly as people have migrated there in search of work and, in some cases, the opportunity to eventually cross the border. Yet, there is little work that pays a living wage; U.S., Korean and Chinese companies have moved in and pay around $70 a week for 48 hours of work — embodying what Pope Francis calls the “economy of exclusion,” where the poor do not fully share in the fruits of their labor, and are treated as “the outcasts, the leftovers” in a “throwaway culture.”
The problems fueled by these tumultuous economic conditions are significant: poverty, substance abuse, crime, human trafficking, family fragmentation, abortion, psychological trauma, serious environmental degradation and substandard housing.