Outlook on the Border from Cristo Rey

By Hannes Zetzsche, Short-Term Columban Volunteer

Arms stretched wide, the Cristo Rey’s eyes survey the distance with a mixture of pain and hope. At an elevation of almost a mile, the mountain peak on Sierra de Cristo Rey is already well above its surroundings, but the limestone statue's additional 40 feet of height grants it an omniscient perspective: El Paso marks the end of Texas, and beyond the international border, a trickling Rio Grande,  Ciudad Juarez sprawls flat into the beginnings of Mexico.

Having just reached the platform at the base of the Cristo Rey, I surveyed the same panorama. I had been invited by Father Bob Mosher that morning to participate in a hike with a group of nine students from the University of St. Thomas, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who had come to El Paso for a border-immersion experience.

On this, one of the group’s final days in the borderland, they had asked Father Bob to lead a morning devotion, so we all climbed the path to the Cristo Rey statue, praying and reflecting on God’s teaching about the treatment of migrants. By the time we had summited the hike, we had taken turns reading biblical passages about the Stations of the Cross, comparing Jesus' suffering to the struggle faced by many who risk their lives to cross the border.

The crucifix above me now represented perfectly the ultimate lesson taught us by Christ: He gave His very life on the cross to rescue each of us from eternal suffering.

Like the students from Minnesota, I too had come to El Paso to learn about the border, and I had spent the past four days visiting social-service providers in Juarez and El Paso, and speaking with the people who serve the migrants there. As a recently appointed Columban short-term volunteer, I was also there for a practical orientation to the organization’s work, and Father Bob, a Columban priest of more than 30 years, had kindly accepted the responsibility of introducing me to his religious order.

Standing on that fresh morning in the shadow of the Cristo Rey, the sight of the international border reminded me of the sadness that existed below me. During one morning, Father Bob and I had spent time in one of Juarez’s major slums, driving the dirt streets to visit widowed mothers struggling to support their children.

As Father Bob and I drove back into El Paso that evening, we saw lines of people seeking residency in the United States, and I learned the next day about the mistreatment experienced by many migrants in federal holding facilities. In considering each of these instances of suffering, the model of Jesus came to mind: if He were in El Paso today, wouldn’t He be in the midst of the suffering, serving the poor and standing up against injustice?

As I looked out from the Cristo Rey, I also found hope in my reflection upon the people I had met during the past four days.

To bring hope to the suffering, Father Bob has formed the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee to protest the inhumane treatment of migrants. I was inspired by Carlos Marentes, who directs the Centro De Los Trabajadores Agricolas Fronterizos, a service that houses, feeds, and educates immigrant farm workers. And I saw Christ’s example of generosity and mercy motivate the countless other people who serve migrants with free clinics, meals, and lessons on the borderland.

Looking down on such suffering and division, Cristo Rey seemed to embrace it, to see the worth of every person caught up in the world’s pain. It seemed only fitting to have learned that the posture of so many missionaries in the communities below mirrored that same mercifully loving embrace.

Weekly Reflections on Justice is produced by the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach staff, volunteers, interns, Columban parishioners, Columban Missionaries, and friends of the Columbans. We hope these reflections help to guide you in your own spiritual journey working toward justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.