“I’m a firm believer in learning by heart” Seamus Heaney
Only three hours away… a simple border check. Yet after crossing the ominous border which brought up a mixture of sadness, bewilderment and anger, I was introduced to the unreal reality that is Tijuana. It’s an unreal reality in its stark contrast with the reality the other side of the border in such things as it’s population density, infrastructure and poverty levels. However, it was important to remind myself that similar plights exist on my doorstep both in L.A and Ireland, one just has to peer a little more intently at their surroundings. In Tijuana I was reminded of some of Fr Greg Boyle’s words; “We are credible if we stand at the margins and help to erase them”. This mission trip deepened within me God’s calling for me to erase margins as a Salesian and awakened in me my obligation as a Salesian to ‘stand at the margins’ not just to see the suffering of my brothers and sisters but to suffer with them.
Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga mentioned in a homily recently that “we must see with the eyes of our heart”, to see with mercy and not judgement. This for me is a profound calling for the Church and I received a crash course in it from all of the people I met in Tijuana! This calling ties in well with one of Pope Francis’ many callings for our Church today, to ‘step outside ourselves’. My fellow novices and I were aware we would be ‘stepping outside ourselves’, our comfort zones, when embarking upon our mission trip. We were given a helping hand in this throughout the week, from the kids at the orphanage who accepted us into their space to the people at the ‘Desayunador’ who volunteered themselves so we could wash their feet on Holy Thursday. They all made the first step, they showed me how to ‘see through the eyes of my heart’ and love with the heart of Christ.
This mission trip for me has been a profound experience of ‘learning by heart’, not by rote, but by receiving God’s love for me from everyone I encountered. Some might say that these people are poor, but I can truly say that they have something that not everyone has and that some may not consider as something of importance; faith that is truly alive. As Seneca said; “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor”. While normal life has resumed, I have decided to take some more of Fr Greg’s advice to heart by “learning from those who have nothing how to become the richest”.