The Jesuit Border Podcast Season 2 Study Guide: The Corporal Works of Mercy

by and | Aug 2, 2022 | Current Events, Immigration, In the News, Justice, 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. Frs. Louie Hotop, SJ, and Brian Strassburger, SJ, two recently-ordained Jesuit priests return to talk about their work in the diocese of Brownsville, TX, and the people who they encounter on a regular basis. The second season of the podcast explores the Corporal Works of Mercy and how these works are enacted along the border. This study guide will help you dive deeper into each episode.


Episode 1: Giving Drink to the Thirsty with Chloe Rastatter and Christa Cook from Solidarity Engineering

Chloe and Christa are two of the three engineers who founded Solidarity Engineering, an organization working on the border to provide engineering solutions to water and sanitation problems, among other things. In this episode, they talk about the complexities of something as basic as providing clean drinking water, and what it’s like to work as women and engineers on the border. Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian share about the ways they’ve seen both the great needs for water for people in Reynosa, Mexico, and how water can make things more complicated, like when it rains!

Theme Explained: “For I was thirsty, and you gave me drink.”

We take it for granted that we have access to clean water. Yet many of our brothers and sisters in Christ do not have access to clean water and suffer from the lack of this basic necessity.  We should support the efforts of those working towards greater accessibility of this essential resource.  

  • Donate to help build wells or water systems for communities in need.
  • Organize a collection of bottled water to distribute at a shelter or on the streets.
  • Make an effort not to waste water in your daily life.


Questions before listening to the episode:

  • Based on your knowledge, what factors contribute to lack of access to clean drinking water around the world?
  • Make a list of the 10 public resources (such as clean drinking water) that you would prioritize, if you were going to design a refugee camp.
  • Who is a woman that inspires you because of her dedication to a social cause or because of the expertise that she possesses? Describe why you admire her.


Questions after listening to the episode:

  • In this episode, Fr. Brian and Fr. Louie describe the tents that the people use in the Plaza. What are some of the difficulties with this way of living? What is your reaction to these difficulties?
  • Both Chloe and Christa talk about listening to the same This American Life podcast about the border and feeling drawn to help in some way. What specific skills and personal characteristics do you think they brought to the border in order to be truly helpful? What skills do you have that you could share with those in need?
  • Christa makes the point that migrants are not “a helpless group.” What do you think she means by that? Do you have any examples from your own life or from episodes of this podcast that show the contributions that migrants make to society? Who? How?


Episode 2: Feeding the Hungry with Vero Dimas from Brownsville Wellness Coalition

Vero Dimas is the Executive Director of the Brownsville Wellness Coalition, an organization that offers programs that promote nutrition and healthy lifestyles. The coalition runs a local farmer’s market, encourages local produce growers, and offers lessons in healthy eating. In her interview, Vero emphasizes the value of not just feeding the hungry, but providing access to healthy food for everyone. Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian share a story about a meal with the family of the local car guard in Reynosa, who provides them with more than just parallel parking advice (although he provides that too!).

Theme Explained: “For I was hungry, and you gave me food.”

There are many people in this world who go without food.  When so much of our food goes to waste, consider how good stewardship practices of your own food habits can benefit others who do not have those same resources.

  • Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or food pantry. 
  • Donate to a Thanksgiving or Christmas food drive.
  • Work on reducing or eliminating food waste in your own household.


Questions before listening to the episode:

  • Do you think that you or your family is conscious of the type of food or the amount of food that you consume? What best practices do you have or could you have to be more aware of your consumption?
  • Is there a farmers market in your town or city? What are the advantages of purchasing your groceries at a farmers market?
  • Describe a time when you or your family gave food to another person, or another person gave food to you.

Questions after listening to the episode:

  • In this episode, Fr. Brian and Fr. Louie describe their meal with Gonzalo’s family and the hospitality of the cocinas in the camp. In what ways have these experiences at meals helped them to deepen their relationships in their ministry?
  • Vero describes her work with the Brownsville Farmers Market as having an impact on people’s mental and physical health. What specific resources are available through the farmers market that make this possible?
  • What are some of the things that Vero appreciates about the culture on the border? In what ways does your own culture or city try to help others?


Episode 3: Caring for the Sick with Brendon Tucker from Global Response Management


Brendon Tucker works for Global Response Management, an organization that delivers emergency medical care in crisis situations around the world, including in northern Mexico along the border. In his interview, Tucker talks about how he got so involved in a medical organization without a medical background, and the drastic medical needs in Reynosa right now. Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian share about their experience of “caring for the sick” at the hygiene counter in the Humanitarian Respite Center of Catholic Charities in McAllen, TX. While they are only dispensing over-the-counter medication, it still causes them both to work up quite the sweat. They are clearly priests, not doctors!

Theme Explained: “For I was sick, and you cared for me.”

Those who are sick are often forgotten or avoided.  In spite of their illness, these individuals still have much to offer to those who take the time to visit and comfort them.

  • Spend time volunteering at a local nursing home.
  • Take time on a weekend to visit with an elderly neighbor or family member.
  • Offer to assist caregivers of chronically sick family members.


Questions before listening to the episode:

  • Why do you think the Church is concerned with the physical well-being of others? What teachings can you think of that form the foundation of this disposition?
  • Have you ever had to visit a hospital for a medical concern? What resources are available to you when you encounter a medical problem?
  • Describe the ways in which mental and physical health are related.


Questions after listening to the episode:

  • Describe the situation at the hygiene counter at the HRC. What do you think it would be like to have to wait in line for these basic supplies?
  • After listening to Tucker describe his work, what are some of the medical concerns that migrants have along the border?
  • In this episode, Tucker speaks about two brothers from Honduras who make their way to the border. What stories from the Bible does this remind you of? How is this story an example of true faith?


Episode 4: Burying the Dead with Fr. Joel Flores, pastor of San Pedro Catholic Church in the Diocese of Brownsville, TX

Fr. Joel Flores is the pastor of San Pedro Catholic Church in the Diocese of Brownsville, TX. Fr. Joel shares some of the innovative ways his parish has responded to the needs of the community throughout the pandemic, including transforming a trailer into a mobile chapel. He also reflects on his ministry of burying indigent or unclaimed bodies in the parish cemetery. Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian talk about their experiences presiding at funerals in the Rio Grande Valley, which include cultural touches like mariachi bands and wailing women. 

Theme Explained: Burying the dead.

Funerals give us the opportunity to grieve and show others support during difficult times.  Through our prayers and actions during these times we show our respect for life, which is always a gift from God, and comfort to those who mourn.

  • Send a card to someone who has recently lost a loved one. 
  • Visit the cemetery and pray for those you have lost.
  • Read through the Order of Christian Funerals.


Questions before listening to the episode:

  • What do you think it means for a person to have a dignified burial? Why does being buried with dignity matter?
  • What customs and traditions does your culture/family have to help process the loss of a loved one?
  • If you imagine your own funeral, what’s something special or unique that you want to happen?


Questions after listening to the episode:

  • In this episode, Fr. Brian and Fr. Louie describe what it’s like to preside at Catholic funerals. What messages do Catholic funerals attempt to communicate to those gathered? What symbols and gestures are used to communicate these messages?
  • What are two things that Fr. Joel has done that demonstrate his creativity as a minister? Why do you think it’s important to be creative when helping others?
  • Under what circumstances might a body go unclaimed on the border? In what ways does Fr. Joel and his parish community respond to this circumstance?


Episode 5: Visit the Imprisoned with Trey Martinez, Brownsville Attorney and Co-Founder of Project Dignity Legal Team


Trey Martinez is an attorney from Brownsville and a very good friend of Fr. Brian and Fr. Louie. In this episode, Trey tells the story about how, through the influence of Sr. Norma Pimentel, he chose to use his legal expertise to help migrants with their asylum cases and co-found Project Dignity Legal Team. Trey also speaks openly about the topic of immigration and humanitarian aid from his perspective as a lawyer and as a person of strong faith. Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian also share about their own struggles of getting involved with the migrant detention system and how difficult it can be to navigate – especially when you’re trying to track down a loved one.

Theme Explained: “For I was in prison, and you visited me.”

People in prison are still people, made in the image and likeness of God.  No matter what someone has done, they deserve the opportunity to hear the Word of God and find the truth of the message of Christ.

  • See if your parish or diocese has a prison ministry and get involved.
  • Find an organization that coordinates pen-pals with prisoners and sign up.
  • Volunteer to help out or donate to charities that give Christmas presents to children whose parents are in prison.


Questions before listening to the episode:

  • What resources do you think should be made available to prisoners to help them in their personal growth? Do a little research. What programs are available in your town or city?
  • What do you imagine are some of the challenges for family members who have loved ones in prison?
  • What does it mean to say that even a person who has committed a horrendous crime still has dignity as a human person? 


Questions after listening to the episode:

  • In this episode, Fr. Brian describes the difficulty of trying to find a migrant in custody in the US. What are some of the obstacles that he faced to find this information?
  • In what ways does Trey’s faith inspire the work that he does? How does faith help to expand the sometimes narrow categories of the law?
  • How did the experience of his brother’s sickness and death change Trey’s life and his outlook on what life is really about? In what ways do moments like this change our perspective on life?


Episode 6: Giving Clothing to the Naked with Hermi Forshage, Volunteer Coordinator at the Humanitarian Respite Center

Hermi Forshage is the volunteer coordinator at the Humanitarian Respite Center (HRC) in McAllen, TX and the chairperson for the Catholic Charities RGV advisory board. In this episode, Hermi shares stories from her years of experience working with migrant families and encourages listeners to think beyond politics and see the dignity of each person. Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian also share about the fiasco they created by trying to bring used clothing across the border – let’s just say they learned their lesson pretty quickly!

Theme Explained: “For I was naked, and you clothed me.”

The lack of adequate clothing is one acute need among many that many families of poverty face in their daily life. And at the same time, consumerism encourages people to constantly buy and replace the clothing that they have, generating more and more waste.

  • Donate clothing to a local homeless shelter or second-hand shop.
  • Ask a local homeless shelter what their greatest clothing needs are, and organize a clothing drive to gather those items.
  • Minimize your own purchases of new clothing and shop at second-hand shops.


Questions before listening to the episode:

  • How would you describe your relationship with clothing and shopping for clothes? What considerations do you have when you shop for new clothes? What do you do with old clothing?
  • Do you know of any thrift stores or second-hand shops in your town or city that sell clothing? What are the advantages of shopping for clothing at one of these stores?
  • Does your school have a uniform or dress code? What do you think the purposes are for the uniform, dress code, or any regulations about clothing at school?


Questions after listening to the episode:

  • Fr. Brian and Fr. Louie talk about how it is not permitted to bring used clothing into Mexico from the US. What reason do they give for this? Does this seem reasonable to you given the circumstances that they describe? Why or why not?
  • Hermi shares the story of a Salvadoran man and his 15-year-old son who encountered problems in Mexico. Describe the story in your own words. What was your reaction to hearing that story?
  • What are the conditions in the home countries of migrants that compel them to leave? What does Hermi say her hope is for migrants who come to the US? Why do you think she says that?


Episode 7: Providing Shelter with Jennifer Harbury, co-founder of Angry Tías and Abuelas

Jennifer Harbury is the co-founder of Angry Tías and Abuelas, a grassroots organization that fights for the protection of migrants on both sides of the border and works tirelessly to secure much needed supplies for shelters, including the new shelter that is being built in Reynosa, Mexico. Jennifer has decades of experience working in Guatemala and along the US-Mexico border for the rights of vulnerable people. In this interview she speaks in stark detail about the humanitarian crisis on the US-Mexico border, a direct result of both current US policy and decades of meddling in Central America. Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian share about their distribution of tents and tarps in the plaza, and argue over which one of us is Sherlin’s favorite, a 7-year-old girl they’ve befriended in Reynosa.

Theme Explained: Providing shelter to the homeless.

There are many circumstances that could lead to someone becoming a person without a home.  Christ encourages us to go out and meet those without homes, affirming their worth and helping them seek a resolution to the challenges they face.

  • Volunteer at a local homeless shelter.
  • Volunteer for an organization that builds homes for those who need shelter.
  • Many homeless shelters need warm blankets for their beds. Knit or sew blankets to donate, or organize a drive to collect blankets.


Questions before listening to the episode:

  • Have you ever volunteered at a local homeless shelter? Or helped build homes for people? Describe what the experience was like for you.
  • What is the situation of homelessness in the town or city where you live? Do a little research. What organizations are working in your town or city to address homelessness? See what you can find out online.
  • Read the story of Zacchaeus the Tax Collector (Luke 19:1-10). How does Zacchaeus provide hospitality to Jesus? How does this encounter impact him?


Questions after listening to the episode:

  • Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian talk about giving preference to Sherlin and her mom over other migrants. Describe the reasons they gave for giving preference in this case. Do you agree with their decision? What would you have done in a similar situation?
  • What two things does Jennifer name that keep the migrants going in the midst of a difficult journey and the hardships they face? How does this relate to the ministry of Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian?
  • Jennifer talks about the passion from her work coming from the things she’s seen among migrants and the stories she’s heard from them. What is a life experience that you’ve had that impacted you in a profound way? Or that gave you a passion for something new?

Brian Strassburger, SJ   /   All posts by Brian