Sr. Maria Francine Stacy, SND, ministers at Notre Dame Academy in Park Hills, KY as a world language teacher. She shared how she helps her students recognize and understand wealth and racial injustices in the United States and the world, as well as the other areas where she shares encounters with immigrants.
This reflection was originally featured in the April 2021 SND USA Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Newsletter.
I am perhaps fortunate as a world language teacher that I have a forum to talk about injustices. My goal is to bring in the UN Development goals as I teach a particular theme. I do simple things like hanging pictures of indigenous people or black persons from the Dominican Republic next to the quote, “When I saw you with my eyes, I thought we were different but when I saw you with my heart, I knew we were the same.” I also have prayer flags woven by women on the Mexican border, so I begin the year by mentioning that women there have sent their prayers to shower down upon us.
When I volunteer with the Guatemalan community, I see how they have essentially no voice. Even in the church where they attend, services are provided for the English-speaking but not for the Spanish-speaking. As the community is extremely indigenous, they are very demure and submissive. I believe that I can only be a voice for them when I encourage a bit more forwardness, but they sometimes do not desire it so I respect their desire. Their dependence on God’s providence is real and sincere. It is through listening that I have seen the oppressed become more convinced of their worth and have come to find their own voice.
Jan Ferguson, one of our SND Associates, works with the Cincinnati Immigrant Transit Association (CITA) to organize outreach of meeting people at the bus station. As immigrants from the border are heading north to rejoin their families, the travelers pause at the station to transfer buses. We hear some of their stories and give them food and encouragement on their journey. The importance of family and of sacrifice is always an apparent value. In addition, their appreciation for any attention is obvious. It seems sometimes that people of color are not anticipating loving attention, especially after having come from a border detention camp and so their appreciation is truly heartfelt, if, however, at first, hesitant.
The other group with whom I work are inmates in the Boone County Detention Center, an immigration holding center. These people see that God is working in their lives as well. However, I see much more sadness as they are preparing to separate from their families. I see the poor as accepting change because it has always been their reality. They so often have not had the power to stop tragedy from occurring in their lives so they have needed to develop a coping mechanism. Of course, this has deep roots in the way the Catholic Church encouraged the poor in Latin America to accept their fate as God’s will.
It is difficult and excruciating at times to see simple and beautiful people suffer because they are poor, indigenous or just discounted individuals. The best help just may be the blessing of being able to companion someone in his/her suffering. Being a companion with a listening (and wounded) heart is sometimes harder than even being an activist. In fact, I believe listening and compassion are the keys.