· Vatican City ·

Christa, a nun operating on the US-Mexico border

“We have the right to live”

 «Si ha diritto di vivere»  DCM-008
02 September 2023

Sister Christa Parra has no specific task. Only to be close. To love. Moreover, to respond to the needs that arise in the migrants’ shelter where she works in Ciudad Juárez. This is the most populous city in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, founded under the name El Paso del Norte, which says it all.

Christa Parra is a young nun of the Sisters of Loretto. She lives between two worlds, and considers herself privileged because she was born in the United States, but by mission, a migrant among migrants - herself the third generation of Mexican immigrants – who are waiting for the great leap to the USA. Every morning she gets behind the wheel of her car, and drives the 45 minutes from El Paso, Texas to the “shelter” on the other side of the border. “Women with children live in the shelter. These are vulnerable women, who are without resources, who have travelled a long way from the South out of desperation while thinking about their children's future. We have three casitas, which are small houses with shared kitchens, and then some flats for families. In all, we can accommodate 60 people”. The guests come from Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela and are all waiting to cross the bridge that separates Mexico from Texas, which is everyone’s dream and nightmare.

Title 42, a measure sought by the Trump administration to block migrants at the border with Mexico, expired in May 2023. Today, entering the US is like a thicket of regulations, exceptions, and possibilities. Joe Biden wanted there to be a sponsor system for entry. It works but lengthens the wait. What’s more, you have to use an App to make an appointment with a US agent and show up at the border point. However, the App has to be consulted all the time, because the 1,000 daily availabilities are quickly exhausted. Then, once you have overcome the technical hiccups (for example, the line going down, and the precarious connection) and registered, you have to wait patiently for the call.

Sister Christa dedicates her life to these people waiting. “Our method is the one suggested by Pope Francis, which is to welcome, protect, promote and integrate”. In addition, to listen. To listen to the sadness of a family fleeing southern Mexico after a son and pregnant daughter-in-law were kidnapped by the “cartels” (criminal gangs) and released on payment of a ransom. Another, the despair of a young Honduran woman whose mother was killed in church for religious reasons. Or, again, the anger of a small businesswoman, the mother of five children, who in El Salvador was being harassed and threatened with death if she did not pay a share of her income. This is what they flee from: violence, blackmail, extortion, and now the drought that turns cultivated fields into deserts.

Sister Christa is the hinge between two worlds, between the one “over here” from which one flees and the one “over there” where everything can begin again. A frontier woman, herself, with her Mexican roots and her US passport. “I feel the tension of the contrast. Being the face of a frontier Church is my response to God’s call. I bring to these fleeing people the love I have received. I want to share it with them. It is a privilege for me”, says Sr. Christa, an intense gaze and cascading brown hair. “It means crossing borders and entering people’s hearts, their most secret places. Learning from the tragedies they have experienced in their Countries and because of which they decided to leave. A young father told me what it meant for him to travel clinging to the roof of a train through Mexico, while being terrified of falling, holding his three-month-old baby in his arms. A mother asked me, I have come this far, suffering hunger and struggling not to succumb, do you think my three-year-old son will remember all this? I replied he will remember how much his mother loved him and did to protect him. He will know that all this was for him”.

Sister Christa is young and able to dream. “Yes, I dream of a world without borders. Because I think it is a human right to seek security, to receive an education, to work, to raise a family. Rights cannot only be reserved for those who are born on the right side of the border and have, like me, a social security number that allows them to go to school, access to a hospital, a driver’s licence, and loans. People have the right to move to where they can live. Indeed, they have the right to live”. (Antonella Mariani)

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