By Marco Grimaldo
Ten days and more than 115 miles ago, about 120 people started off from the international border between Tijuana and San Diego. The first day we walked 8 miles, but since then we have walked as many as 16 miles per day. As we near the last days of El Camino del Inmigrante, walkers/pilgrims are exhausted, blistered, and aching, but it is in those broken places where many of us have experienced healing and kindness from this new community of caminantes (walkers) that has formed around us.
Just past the midpoint of El Camino, we gathered at the Crossing Church in Costa Mesa, Calif., to share our experiences with local churches and people in Orange County in an event called Strangers No More.
Noel Castellanos, president of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), had the vision to call for El Camino and invited Bread for the World to partner with CCDA and World Relief in the effort. Noel opened the program and reminded us that El Camino is a way for those of us affected by immigration and those concerned about the effects of immigration policy to walk in solidarity with immigrants who come to the United States at great risk. “We cannot claim that this is going to allow us to feel the suffering that they (immigrants) feel … but in our own way we are asking God to help us feel more connected to them,” he said.
All three organizations joined in the program, and Bishop Jose Garcia, church relations director at Bread, who has walked every mile of El Camino, spoke on behalf of Bread. Bishop Jose talked about his personal experience as a pastor to immigrants and reminded us that “thirty-four percent of U.S.-born children of undocumented parents in the U.S. struggle with hunger.” But God has instructed Christians very specifically how to care for immigrants. We are to treat them as honored guests and even as family. We must pay them fairly and treat them with dignity.
“So how can we make a difference?” Bishop Jose asked. “The next Congress and the next president can put us back on track to fix this broken system of immigration,” he said. What happens at the national policy level directly impacts what happens to families that suffer under our broken system. Bishop Jose closed by inviting everyone to stay informed by signing up for Bread for the Word text alerts.
If we needed a reminder, Bishop Jose said that we should not think of immigrants as needy people who are here to take but rather as workers who came here to build a better life for themselves and for all of us. We have indeed built a powerful experience together around El Camino del Inmigrante – one that will stay with us and motivate us to continue our advocacy for and with immigrants for we are strangers no more.
Marco Grimaldo is senior associate for Latino engagement at Bread for the World.