On Valentine’s Day, a group of 18 Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, four staff and a handful of community supporters gathered in prayer before embarking on our profound journey. We sang together, “We are on holy ground,” and began our pilgrimage to El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. We prepared to go where Vincent commissioned us to go – out to the margins.

After a 12-hour overnight bus ride, we reached our destination. Over the course of several days, we experienced immigration proceedings at a courthouse, heard a presentation from an advocacy agency providing legal aid, ate homemade tamales and listened to a crossing story in the home of a family who was separated for many years. We visited with Border Patrol agents and local educators, a mother who crossed to save her daughter’s life and a doctor providing medical care in Juarez free of cost. All the while as we drove through the cities, the tall border wall flanked us, running parallel to the Rio Grande River.

Of all the people we met with and places we went, the common occurrence was the pleading: from Rachel, working as a legal aid for immigration law at Las Americas, who told us to come back because they’re hiring; to Reuben Garcia, who wanted us to recognize the dignity of those traveling across the border and asked us to think about returning as Annunciation House volunteers.

We also heard from the Border Patrol agents, who were defending the need for their role and wanted to get across that they are good people too; and from Jorge, living alone in sanctuary, who simply wanted us to share his story in the hope that someone, somewhere, will hear it and know how to bring his wife and son back.

We do not travel to the border to complete service or to help those who live there. We travel to the border to encounter God’s beloved people and listen to their stories of struggle, perseverance and hope. We travel to share meals prepared by strong wisdom-keepers and to be reminded of the dignity of all persons – regardless of which side of which border we were born. And we are starkly reminded of the privilege we have to participate in this experience. In this pilgrimage, we are given the gift and opportunity to be vessels for stories of those who live on the border.

We travel to the border to encounter God’s beloved people and listen to their stories of struggle, perseverance and hope.

On Sunday evening, we boarded the bus. Having left behind our expectations and ignorance, we can now carry with us Christ, encountered in the most unlikely of places. We are tasked to build bridges of empathy and understanding within our communities. We remind ourselves and others that these, too, are our sisters and brothers, beloved children of God.