Finding Mercy in Laredo
By Carrie S.
In the spring of 2008, a colleague and I accompanied twelve students from Mercy High School, San Francisco to Laredo, Texas to participate in an immersion program designed to give them an opportunity to experience Mercy in a whole new way. Over the course of one week, they would engage in direct service, learn about many social justice issues endemic to the US-Mexico border—including immigration, human trafficking, and environmental devastation—and build relationships with the many Sisters of Mercy in Laredo who would graciously welcome us into their lives, homes, and ministries.
What we, as Mercy educators, encountered that week far exceeded even our highest expectations. We found that simply working and learning alongside the Sisters in Laredo enabled both us and our students to engage with many of the Sisters of Mercy’s critical concerns. Being on the border and hearing the immigration stories of several of the Sisters’ friends and colleagues concretized the issues of immigration and racism for us. Touring Casa de Misericordia—the domestic violence shelter—and serving at the Education Center enabled us to witness the Sisters’ profound commitment to seeking justice for women. Participating in a clean-up effort along the shores of the Rio Grande—during which we found numerous articles of clothing discarded by people who had recently crossed the river—helped us to understand how US efforts to control the border with Mexico wreak havoc on the plant and animal species that rely on the Rio Grande watershed for survival.
For four consecutive years, we continued to offer this program, taking 6 to 12 students each year in the spring or early summer. We found that students were able to integrate their experience in Laredo with what they had learned in a variety of their academic courses, including Religious Studies, Science, and Social Studies. They also made connections with various co-curricular programs, guest speakers, and assemblies that are regular events at Mercy-SF, including our annual observances of V-Day—the global movement to end violence against women—and Earth Day. In short, these students deepened their commitment to living out the corporal works of mercy in the spirit of Catherine McAuley—both in their remaining time at our school and in their future lives and careers.
As a member of the Religious Studies department who teaches both Ethics and Scripture, I have found that leading students on this program has greatly broadened my capacity to more explicitly relate the subject matter I teach to our identity and mission as a Mercy school. As I engage my students in faith-based reflection on pressing moral issues of our time, and as I facilitate their exploration of the Biblical roots of the call to social justice, I am able to draw on my experience in Laredo by citing concrete, firsthand examples and stories. As a result, my students grow in their understanding of Mercy as a powerful, tangible response to Jesus’ call to serve the least among us—a call to which they, too, must respond.
This year, we opted to take a group of adults—all faculty/staff members at Mercy-SF—to Laredo to participate in a similar program as the students had in prior years. This proved to be both a beautiful and effective way to promote true ownership of the Mercy charism amongst the adult members of our community. As I witnessed my colleagues engaging in a program that has become such a significant aspect of my formation as a Mercy educator, I felt my own commitment to Mercy values deepening.
In addition, it was a pleasure to meet the wide variety of people who partner with the Sisters of Mercy in Laredo—not only the staff of Mercy Ministries, but also the many volunteers and members of the community who support the Sisters’ work there in a variety of ways. It is this broad “Circle of Mercy”—these co-ministers, whether in Laredo, in San Francisco, or elsewhere around the world—who make it possible for the Sisters to address their critical concerns in new and creative ways, even in the midst of ever-more tumultuous times in our country, church, and world. What a privilege it is to count myself as a member of this group.
Carrie is a Religious Studies Teacher and member of the Campus Ministry staff at Mercy High School in San Francisco, CA.