''We have to get over the fear that we are different." Bishop Mark J. Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso, shared these simple yet profound words last week with 18 Catholic school educators from the Archdiocese of Boston during an immersion trip focusing on the realities and challenges families face at the El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez border. I was fortunate to participate in this experience as part of a course sponsored by Boston College's Barbara and Patrick Roche Center for Catholic Education to "examine the contexts and realities of global and U.S. immigration through the lens of Catholic tradition and teaching."
The immersion trip to Texas and Mexico, hosted by the Columban Mission Center in El Paso, integrated visits and discussions with the hard-working and humble people serving the most marginalized on the border. We met with Bishop Seitz and representatives from El Paso Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services who aid and represent children and families on the border. We learned of the challenges faced by migrant laborers from the staff at a farm workers' center, the women fighting for the rights of their community at La Mujer Obrera, and the director of youth for the Diocese of Las Cruces, who works fastidiously to reach families across thousands of miles in this mission diocese. We heard from the officers stationed at the border through U.S. Border Patrol and the lay and religious men and women at the shelters that house migrant families, comforting them during times of hardship and uncertainty. We also met the dedicated teachers and staff of St. Joseph School who toil tirelessly to provide a life-changing education to their students.
Eye-opening at every stage, each conversation was a testament to Jesus' work and presence among us. Having worked in Catholic education for 12 years, it was striking, but not surprising, to witness the effortless dialogue and connection that developed between the two groups of Catholic school educators from Boston and El Paso. As Catholic educators dedicated to educating the whole child, we shared common struggles -- students with tenuous home lives, uncertain futures for families, calming students' fears after incidents of violence, and inaccessible high tuition for families yet inequitable pay for talented educators. Underlining all these shared challenges was also the great hope: Jesus' love.
Jesus' love is the heart of these educators' work and can be exemplified in innumerable ways from the students they teach to the loving communities they create. However, a straightforward way to see Jesus' love in action is to simply look at how these educators spend their free time: the teachers at St. Joseph School stayed until 7 p.m. to share with strangers, giving generously after the last bell had rung. Meanwhile, the educators from Boston sacrificed their entire, well-earned school vacation week to challenge themselves to learn how to best serve their students and strengthen the Church.
The meeting of Catholic school educators demonstrated what happens when, as Bishop Seitz challenges us, we move past the fear that we are different -- meaningful discourse, learning, respect and understanding, and increased opportunities for children. There is a vulnerability in seeing ourselves in the other, and we must recognize that every child is the same, singular gift from a loving God and that we must serve all God's children.
In serving all of God's children, the Catholic Schools Foundation strives to make a high-quality Catholic school education accessible to those most in need and to strengthen our schools through the gifts of our diverse students. One way in which CSF has done this is through our Hispanic Recruitment Initiative and New Immigrant Scholarship Fund, which began in 2008 and since then has provided 730 Hispanic and new immigrant students with $5.5 million in scholarships over the past 12 years. However, these students are only successful thanks to our incredible partners. We are thankful to our supporters and to the Roche Center for providing this experience for the incredible educators and leaders in the Archdiocese of Boston who erase the fears of difference and cultivate Jesus' love.
Megan Adzima is director of Allocations and Partnerships for the Catholic Schools Foundation.