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On Assignment with the Kino Border Initiative

Travis Stoops, left, listens as a deportee shares his story at the Kino Border Initiative's main facility in Nogales, Sonora. (JRS/USA)
Thursday, August 26, 2010

Travis Stoops, a Jesuit novice, recently returned from a couple of months working at the Kino Border Initiative in the twin cities of Ambos Nogales (Arizona and Mexico). He wrote this reflection of his experience there.

During my work with the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, I perceived how alive the project is with the spirit of its patron, Fr. Eusebio Francisco Kino.  Fr. Kino, like the project he inspires, was always at the forefront of his ministry.  

Fr. Kino was born in 1645 in Italy, and went to Germany for studies after entering the Jesuits. Fr. Kino was then given the task of establishing a mission in what is today northern Sonora and southern Arizona. While enduring several initial hardships he went on to establish 24 thriving missions. His success is attributed to his unique ability to befriend and introduce Christianity to the Sonoran Indians. The Pima people came to lovingly refer to him as the "Padre on horseback," as he spent a great deal of time traversing the new Christian communities scattered across the frontier. Kino’s spirit of exploration and training in mathematics lead him to produce the first accurate maps of the area, a major part of which was directing an overland expedition proving that Baja California was a peninsula and not an island.

This is the history I came to learn about and the spirit that filled me as I worked with immigrants at the CAMDEP dining facility. The center serves two meals a day every day of the week. During my time there it was not uncommon to serve 150 people at any given meal from all parts of Mexico, Central, and South America. The preparation, serving, cleaning up, and planning for the next meal that were involved in a normal day reminded me of all the farming and ranching work Fr. Kino did to help support his missions. Fr. Kino was an expert frontiersman was well as missionary. He was able to claim 70,000 head of cattle from the initial 20 he brought with him from Europe. Many a day I would look at the food we had available compared to the line of recently deported immigrants and wonder how we were going to feed them. Then as if planned, one of the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist would bring out an unaccounted for pot of food and smile. 

I came to learn about one face of the border by the scars she leaves on those who try to cross her.  I encountered the cracked and blistered feet of people trying to cross the desert, the broken and strained legs of those trying to jump the fence, and the psychological anguish of those separated from family and friends. Having also worked with the education, advocacy, and research components of the project I hope this is one face of the border we can erase. Fr. Kino, too, fought to improve the subhuman working conditions of Sonoran Indians in Spanish silver mines. The Kino Border Initiative is working now to be the voice of some of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters just as Fr. Kino was then.

I come back from the border, la frontera in Spanish, with a concrete concept of ministry on the frontiers. As General Congregation 35 says, "Ignatius and his first companions understood the importance of reaching out to people on the frontiers and at the center of society, and of reconciling those estranged in any way … This tradition of Jesuits building bridges across barriers becomes crucial in the context of today’s world. We become able to bridge the divisions of a fragmented world only if we are united by the love of Christ our Lord, by personal bonds like those that linked Francis Xavier and Ignatius across the sea, and by the obedience that sends each one of us in mission to any part of the world." (GC 35 D. 3, n. 15-17)

I know I have experienced the life of the Gospel, the spirit that filled Fr. Kino and that continues to guide the Kino Border Initiative, a spirit that sends us to the frontiers.