Bridging Borders

This article by CJI director Jenny Cafiso is the first in a series of five written for CJI’s Bridging Borders campaign.

Crossing borders with hope

As I write this, over 7,000 Honduran migrants including children have crossed the Guatemalan and Mexican borders and are marching toward the United States border. Some, including the President of the US, are describing them as murderers, rapists, “very bad criminals.” Helicopters are hovering over them, the border patrol and the military have been alerted, ready to act. There are calls to close the border.

While some migrants have turned back, most are staying the course. Jose Mejia, 42, a father of four from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, was quoted as saying, “We are going to sleep here in the street, because we have nothing else.”

Gerardo works as journalist with Radio Progresso despite receiving death threats. (Photo: J.Cafiso/CJI)

I was in the same city of San Pedro Sula in Honduras just a month ago. This is where Radio Progreso and ERIC, a Jesuit radio station and human rights centre, work under the leadership of Fr Melo Coto. With the ERIC team, I visited communities where they work — and I understand why people are leaving the country.

I met Gerardo, a young journalist at Radio Progreso, who has received a number of death threats. His young son of 5 has told him he is afraid he will be killed. In a country where over 40 journalists have been killed since 2009, the threat is real. I asked Gerardo why he stays. He said it is because they are committed to the people. He probably is not in the caravan of migrants marching toward the US border, but if he were, I could understand why.

Two community leaders walked hours to tell us of their struggle against Canadian mining company Aura Minerals, which has not only polluted their rivers and land, but is now removing the cemetery where their family members are buried. With sadness and fear Manuel told me that his son, with no way to feed his family, has left to cross the border. He said he hopes that God will watch over him.

I visited the people in Campamento Guapinol in Tocoa who are blocking the entrance to a mine site, to “defend water and life.” They await the arrival of the army to dislodge the camp. Perhaps some of them are now in the caravan crossing the border.

Belinda has been charged with trespassing on her own people’s land. (Photo: J.Cafiso/CJI)

And I also met Belinda, in Guadalupe, Santa Fe, a fishing community of the Garifuna people, whose ancestral land has been bought by a Canadian businessman who is building a retirement community for Canadians. Their land was supposed to be protected, but now they fear that their access to the sea and fishing will be blocked. She and another leader have been charged for trespassing. I wonder if she too is in the caravan crossing the border.

In a country with the highest murder rate in the western hemisphere, where a woman is killed every 14 hours; a country with a strong network of organized crime linked to the passage of drugs destined for North America; where there is deep social conflict due to the large presence of mining companies; where there is extreme inequality and poverty; it is not surprising that thousands of people are leaving.

Bridging borders with justice

This year at Canadian Jesuits International (CJI) we chose Bridging Borders as the theme of our Giving Tuesday campaign. We did so, greatly inspired by Pope Francis’ words “I appeal not to create walls but to build bridges” and deeply concerned by the politics of fear in our current context.

We have chosen 3 projects supported by CJI, which illustrate how we can build bridges today:

  • The Jesuit Service for Pan-Amazonia is bridging the borders of 5 countries through a program that offers bilingual, bicultural education in the Amazon region, that honours indigenous knowledge, integrates respect for the environment and seeks to build a “common home.”
  • In India, the project Lok Manch (People’s Forum) is bridging borders by working on a Rights Based Program, advocating for just wages, land and housing rights for workers; food security; quality education for children; and opposing violence against women.
  • In Syria, the Jesuit Refugee Service is bridging borders though a family support program in Damascus, which offers assistance to internally displaced people, independent of their faith, class, gender or group.

These projects point the way to what it means to bridge borders in today’s context.

Bridging borders is not a vague concept or abstract wish. It is an engagement that involves the heart, a commitment to social justice. It requires concrete changes in the social structures that are at the basis of division, poverty and conflict. It means ensuring that everyone has access to the necessities of life like food, water, shelter, education, healthcare — not as privileges or gifts, but as rights. It means working so that people can live a life with dignity in their own lands free from violence, and where their livelihood is respected. It requires that we fight so that everyone has a voice, the right to express their opinion. It means working for the common good. Only then we can speak of Bridging Borders.

For us as Canadians it means ensuring that our mining companies operating overseas obtain free, prior and informed consent from the local communities where they work. It means giving aid that allows local economies to thrive, pushing for fair trading practices, cutting relations with governments which abuse human rights.

As Gerardo, the journalist living under death threat in Honduras said, “We need to be a light in the darkness.”

Gerardo, Belinda, Manuel, and all the other inspiring men and women I met in Honduras, are bridging borders through their actions. Please join them by supporting CJI’s 2018 Giving Tuesday campaign, Bridging Borders.

This article first appeared on the igNation website on 31 October 2018. Jenny Cafiso is director of Canadian Jesuits International.

(Banner photo by Jenny Cafiso/CJI: Leticia Castellanos works as a journalist with Radio Progreso)