Stories of Discipleship: Ministry to migrants in Coachella provides journey of accompaniment

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By Edith Arreola

“We need a church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a church that accompanies them on their journey; a church able to make sense of the “night” contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters.” -Pope Francis

 As stated by the Holy Father, the accompaniment so greatly encouraged in the V Encuentro process, is vital to our Church.  

 With the National V Encuentro gathering having taken place last September in Grapevine, Texas, much was gained by our Roman Catholic Church here in the United States.  It included a culmination of reports given from every diocese across the country which gathered their information from parishes that held sessions for parishioners.  The sessions included themes from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel and how he discussed fostering encounter and accompanying people in the peripheries.  We were encouraged, in these sessions, by Pope Francis to primerear, that is, to be the missionary disciples that we are called to be at our baptism, and go out and accompany those in need of true accompaniment. We are called to accompany others as Jesus did with two of his disciples on their way to Emmaus.  

 The V Encuentro process was a beautiful experience of honesty, sharing, and fellowship. My husband, Juan, and I truly feel blessed to have been a part of the historic process on our faith journey together and we continue to celebrate the fruits of it.

 To primerear can certainly mean that we go out of our homes and cities to accompany others. Primerear also means stepping out of our comfort zones. We do not need to go far to find people in need of accompaniment.  It’s likely they’re within our own neighborhoods and within our own families.  When our eyes fail to help us find those people in need, we need to look with our hearts.  When we look with our hearts, we might just find that God brings those in need of accompaniment to us.  That is certainly the case for my husband and myself.

 Late last year Juan and I became involved in an effort called Operation Bienvenida.  This is a combined effort of the Diocese of San Bernardino, Catholic Charities, and the Valley Missionary Program to provide transitional help to those seeking asylum from Central America.  Operation Bienvenida accompanies our brothers and sisters in Christ for the short time they stay at the Valley Missionary Program, much in the way Pope Francis encourages us to accompany others.  Through this accompaniment, the spirit of the V Encuentro is ever present at Operation Bienvenida.  We, along with many other volunteers, have donated our time to our brothers and sisters in need of accompaniment. We do nothing more than accompany our brothers and sisters for the few days they are with us.  Volunteers cook in the kitchen, serve meals, sort clothes, drive, and clean. We ensure they eat a good meal made with complete care.  We walk with them as they get a clean change of clothes. We smile at them as they pass us.  We laugh with them when they find something funny. We listen to what they want to share.  We pray with them. The tangible items received are needed, but the accompaniment they experience is invaluable. They are invaluable not only to our brothers and sisters, but to everyone involved.

 Juan and I have taken so much from this experience both as individuals and as a married couple. As individuals, Juan and I have gained an even greater appreciation for our parents and grandparents. This experience has allowed us to look into the eyes of our parents and grandparents through the eyes of immigrants who look for a better life for their children. As a married couple, our hearts and minds are ignited with even more conviction to raise our children with a sense of service to others and to continue helping and accompanying others in need.  We have looked in the eyes of our brothers and sisters and have seen hope, fear, and faith beyond measure.  They share the same love for their children that we do for ours.  They want the best life for their children as we do.  

 This beautiful experience that our Lord has afforded us through the V Encuentro and Operation Bienvenida has helped us be better people, ourselves, to one another, and to others.  

 All this is the result of God and our willingness, although difficult, to heed His journey for us.


Edith Arreola is a parishioner of Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert.