The Jesuit Border Podcast: Season 1 Study Guide

by and | Feb 2, 2022 | Immigration, Justice, The Jesuits, TJPodcast

The Jesuit Border Podcast seeks to promote a greater understanding of the migrant situation at the U.S.-Mexico border as well as the response of the Catholic Church. The hosts are Fr. Louie Hotop, SJ, and Fr. Brian Strassburger, SJ, two recently-ordained Jesuit priests who were sent to the diocese of Brownsville, TX, for their first mission. Join them as they learn more about the region, share stories of their ministry, and interview people who share their own experiences of walking with migrants day after day.

The first season of the podcast explores some of the themes of Catholic Social Teaching in relation to the Catholic response to immigration. This study guide can help you dive deeper into each episode and the corresponding theme.



Episode 1: Life and Dignity of the Human Person with Bishop Daniel Flores

As the bishop of Brownsville, TX, Bishop Daniel Flores is deeply invested in and knowledgeable of the border reality. In this episode, he shares his own reflections on the dignity of the human person, especially from the perspective of the poorest among us. Fr. Brian and Fr. Louie also share about their own work with the migrants in Reynosa, Mexico and some mistakes they’ve made along the way!

Theme Explained: Life and Dignity of the Human Person

The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.

Questions before listening to the episode:

  • What do you already know about migration along the US-Mexico border?
  • Why do you think people might want to seek refuge in the United States?
  • In our world today, what do you think are major threats to human dignity? Are there institutions that you know of that are working to uphold the human dignity of others?

Questions after listening to the episode:

  • Based on what you’ve heard, briefly describe the reality in the camp in Reynosa, Mexico.
  • In the episode, Bishop Flores tells a story about visiting a migrant detention facility at Christmas time. Describe that story. How does it affect you?
  • List two insights that you come away with after listening to this episode.



Episode 2: Rights and Responsibilities with Nancy Dimas from Project Dignity Legal Team

Nancy Dimas is the Executive Administrator of Project Dignity Legal Team, a ministry of Catholic Charities RGV. In this episode she reflects on the rights that asylum seekers have as they navigate the immigration process. Fr. Brian and Fr. Louie also share stories of some unexpected places where they’ve run into asylum seekers in the US.

Theme Explained: Rights and Responsibilities

The Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities–to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.

Questions before listening to the episode:

  • Who are you responsible for in your own life? How do you exercise that responsibility?
  • List 3-5 rights that you think every individual should have protected.
  • In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you,for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Restate this teaching in your own words.

Questions after listening to the episode:

  • Based on what you’ve heard in the episode, what struggles do asylum seekers face after they’ve entered the United States?
  • Fr. TJ Martinez asked Nancy, “What are you doing for your community?” How did she respond? How would you respond?
  • List two insights that you come away with after listening to this episode.



Episode 3: The Rights and Dignity of Workers with Sr. Liz Sjoberg from Proyecto Juan Diego

Sr. Liz Sjoberg is the Director of Family and Education Services at Proyecto Juan Diego, a non-profit which assists low-income and undocumented families in the Rio Grande Valley. In this episode, Sr. Liz speaks about her own experience of working in the Valley with migrants and undocumented people. She explores the joys and difficulties of this ministry, and reflects deeply on the importance of dignified work. Fr. Brian and Fr. Louie also share about the ways they’ve seen migrants offer their own skills for the good of the community in the camp in Reynosa.

Theme Explained: Rights and Dignity of Workers

The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected–the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.

Questions before the episode:

  • Based on what you already know, what do you think are some challenges that undocumented people face while living in the United States?
  • List 3-5 characteristics of work that upholds the dignity of the worker.
  • What kind of work do you want to do in the future? What will you have to do to get there?

Questions after listening to the episode:

  • In this episode Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian describe Manuel and his efforts to build a shelf for one of the cocinas. What skills did he bring to this project? Why do you think it was so important to him to use those skills?
  • Sr. Liz talks about people making crafts or plates of food to sell in order to make money. What are the factors that cause people to resort to this “informal economy”? What are the drawbacks of not having formal employment?
  • List two insights that you come away with after listening to this episode.



Episode 4: Call to Family, Community, and Participation with Ofelia de los Santos, Director of Jail Ministry in the Diocese of Brownsville

Ofelia de los Santos works for the Diocese of Brownsville, TX. She is the Director of Jail Ministry, the Director of Stewardship, and the liaison for Catholic Relief Services. In a word, she wears many hats! In this episode Ofelia shares from her experiences of accompanying detained men and women as a lawyer and as a chaplain. Fr. Brian and Fr. Louie also share about their ministry with unaccompanied minors, including insights into what it’s like to offer counseling during confessions in a different language and through a mask.

Theme Explained: Call to Family, Community, and Participation

The person is not only sacred but also social. How we organize our society—in economics and politics, in law and policy—directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. Marriage and the family are the central social institutions that must be supported and strengthened, not undermined. We believe people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, ​​especially the poor and vulnerable.

Questions before the episode:

  • What are the social groups that you are a part of? Pick one. How do you participate in it? What role do you play?
  • There are over a million people incarcerated in the United States. How do you think such mass incarceration affects family life?
  • What’s the farthest trip you’ve ever taken alone? Describe it and how it felt traveling without your parents.

Questions after listening to the episode:

  • In this episode, Fr. Brian and Fr. Louie talk about celebrating the Sacraments with unaccompanied minors at a local parish. It’s the one opportunity a week that the children have to leave the detention center. What are the reasons why this experience would be meaningful to them?
  • Ofelia talks about the Church’s response to the US government’s policy of family separation at the border. Why do you think it’s important for people of faith to be able to challenge government policies?
  • List two insights that you come away with after listening to this episode.



Episode 5: Solidarity with Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, Co-Founder of The Sidewalk School

Felicia Rangel-Samponaro is the co-founder of The Sidewalk School, a school for migrant children in the Reynosa encampment, along with other sites in northern Mexico. Felicia is a strong advocate for asylum-seekers, and she is particularly focused on amplifying their voices and creating opportunities to exhibit their talents. In this episode Felicia shares from her own experience of living in solidarity with asylum-seekers and offers reflections on the border reality. Fr. Brian and Fr. Louie also share about Pastor Hector, founder of the “Senda de Vida” shelter in Reynosa, who really exemplifies solidarity with the most vulnerable.

Theme Explained: Solidarity

We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world. At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace. Pope Paul VI taught that “if you want peace, work for justice.” The Gospel calls us to be peacemakers. Our love for all our sisters and brothers demands that we promote peace in a world surrounded by violence and conflict.

Questions before the episode:

  • What do you think it means to say, “Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world”? 
  • What is a social issue that you are passionate about? How do you engage this issue?
  • List 5 consequences of missing a year of school.

Questions after the episode:

  • In the episode, Fr. Louie says, “If you want to know who’s putting solidarity into practice, ask the migrants themselves.” Why is the perspective of the migrants so important to understand and how do you think this should inform the efforts of those who are trying to help them?
  • Toward the end of the episode, Felicia reflects on the essential role women have played as leaders in the efforts to help the migrants. Name two strong women leaders in your own life. What makes them such good leaders?
  • List two insights that you come away with after listening to this episode.



Episode 6: Preferential Option for the Poor with Sr. Norma Pimentel, MJ, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley

Sr. Norma Pimentel, MJ, is the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. Sr. Norma works tirelessly on behalf of the most vulnerable on the US-Mexico border, and she is a well-known advocate for migrants and asylum seekers. She was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2020. The Humanitarian Respite Center (HRC) that Sister started several years ago helps hundreds of migrant families every week, and it has been an essential part of ministry in the Valley for Fr. Brian and Fr. Louie. In this episode, Sr. Norma reflects on her own call to serve the poor and marginalized as a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, and she calls on all people of good will to “come and see” how Christ is present along the border. Fr. Brian and Fr. Louie also share the challenge of prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable in the camp and highlight the generous cocineras that they depend upon.

Theme Explained: Preferential Option for the Poor

A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition recalls the story of the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46), where Jesus tells us that whatever we do for the least among us, we do for Jesus himself. He is instructing us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.

Questions before the episode:

  • Have you spent time working or volunteering on behalf of the poor or marginalized? Describe that experience. What was it like for you?
  • What does it mean to have a vocation? How do you think you could go about discovering your own vocation?
  • Read Matthew 25:31-46. Why were the sheep and goats surprised by the king’s response?

Questions after listening to the episode:

  • Why do migrants in the camp need shoelaces? How does donating something as simple as shoelaces help to restore their dignity?
  • Sr. Norma describes encountering migrant children in detention, how did she respond to this experience? How do you think you would respond?
  • List two insights that you come away with after listening to this episode.



Brian Strassburger, SJ   /   All posts by Brian