Living our Baptismal Call: Rhonda Miska

This November 1-3, progressive Catholics will converge for the world’s biggest church reform conference — the annual Call To Action conference, this year titled Living Our Baptismal Call. And here on Young Adult Catholics, we will feature some of this year’s conference speakers that we are excited to see. Find out about all conference speakers and young adult scholarships here. Next, we present Rhonda Miska, a 20/30 member and blogger here on Young Adult Catholics. She will be offering a session called “Pastoral Care and Trauma Healing for Immigrants.”

DSC07776“Quiero contarle mis cosas” (I want to tell you my story) was a phrase that was spoken to me over and over during my years as Hispanic ministry coordinator at the Church of the Incarnation. I would close my office door, put my phone mute, breathe a silent prayer, and then listen. The stories I heard have marked me, and I am deeply privileged to have heard them. Stories of children and parents who were left behind in Latin America. Stories of women who had been sexually assaulted while making the journey north. Stories of families being reunited after a safe crossing of the border. Stories of a long journey of cold nights and hot days. Stories of daily life in the United States marked with both the fear of getting caught and with the hope for a brighter future.

Human beings make meaning by telling stories. As Christians, we are profoundly shaped –both individually and collectively – by the stories of our faith tradition. The stories of Jesus’ life – his birth, ministry, suffering, death and resurrection. The stories of the patriarchs of the Old Testament and the journey of the people of Israel. The stories of the early church – the missionary journeys of the apostles and the formation of new communities. We fit our own stories, the stories of our lives, into the larger frame of these stories from our faith tradition.

With an increasing number of Spanish-speaking immigrants arriving at the doors of Catholic parishes across the US, parishes and dioceses are scrambling to welcome them, meet their sacramental and spiritual needs, celebrate the gifts that they bring, and find ways to create encounters between newly-arrived immigrants with US Catholics that are mutually transformative. Often the focus of these efforts is on finding bilingual staff, and on helping immigrants access services and local resources like food banks, educational supports, legal assistance, housing, etc.

Pastoral agents are willing to provide practical and sacramental assistance to those who are undocumented (which is undoubtedly crucial) but, in my experience, are not entirely comfortable with acknowledging and listening to their stories, especially the stories of their experiences in leaving home and entering the United States. The message parishes and ministries often give is “you’re welcome here, documented or not – we don’t care about your legal status.” It is intended as a statement of hospitality, but it communicates an unwillingness to hear and hold the stories of difficult and formative experiences.

Our church in the United States is – historically and currently – an immigrant church. How do we, as concerned Catholics – immigrant, citizen, or both – create spaces to honestly share and hear each other’s stories, even the traumatic ones? Do we have ‘eyes to see and ears to hear’ each other’s stories, and let them change the way we are church together? How can these stories transform the way we hear and proclaim the Gospel, especially our reflection on the Paschal mystery? These are some of the questions that will be explored at the upcoming Call To Action conference. All who are passionate about – or simply want to learn more about – immigration, ministry and pastoral care with and for immigrants, and trauma healing are encouraged to attend.

Rhonda Miska holds a MA in Pastoral Ministry with a Hispanic Ministry emphasis from the Boston College School of Theology. She served as a Jesuit Volunteer in Nicaragua from 2002-2004. For the last nine years she has made her home in Central Virginia where her work has included congregation-based community organizing, living in community with adults with disabilities, peace and justice education, interfaith dialogue, and accompaniment of the Spanish-speaking immigrant community. Currently, she is active in peace, justice, and immigration reform organizing efforts through Casa Alma Catholic Worker Community in Charlottesville, VA.

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