The Jesuit Border Podcast Season 4 Study Guide

by and | Aug 29, 2023 | Current Events, Immigration, In the News, TJPodcast

The Jesuit Border Podcast seeks to promote a greater understanding of the migrant situation at the U.S.-Mexico border and the Catholic response. In the fourth season, Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian talk with amazing advocates and ministers who are helping migrants in the Rio Grande Valley and beyond. Our study guide can help you use the series for classroom teaching, group discussion, or deeper personal reflection.

Go to the main page for the Jesuit Border Podcast.


Episode 1: “Accompaniment” with Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, TX

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, TX is an outspoken advocate for the marginalized. Dating back to his time in formation for the priesthood, Archbishop Gustavo has a history of working with migrants, beginning in agricultural communities in California in the 1980s and extending to the ministry of the Archdiocese of San Antonio that cares for migrants today. He had to face two consecutive tragedies in late spring 2021, between the school shooting in Uvalde and the case of 53 migrants dying from heat exhaustion in the back of a trailer. In both cases, Archbishop Gustavo responded by meeting people where they were at: mourners outside the school, and survivors in their hospital rooms.

Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian also offer their own humble reflections on the ministry of accompaniment amid the ever-changing realities along the border. That includes their visits with anxious families in a newly formed encampment in Matamoros, and time spent sitting with a pregnant woman from Haiti as she tries to navigate the newly launched “CBP One” app designed to schedule appointments at border ports of entry. Does anyone know how to say “password” in Haitian Creole??

Reflection from Scripture:
“We urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all. See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good for each other and for all.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15

Questions before listening to the episode:

  • Recall an experience when you were going through a difficult time in your life. Who were the people you turned to and how did they help and accompany you through this difficult time?
  • Next, recall an experience when you helped and accompanied a friend or family member through a difficult time in their own life. What was the experience like for you?
  • Based on the experiences that you reflected on above, develop a definition and description of “accompaniment” using your own words.

Questions after listening to the episode:

  • What did you learn about the “CBP One” app in this episode? What are some of the challenges that migrants encounter using it?
  • Archbishop Gustavo says that he believes the kingdom of God is truly present in the poor. Based on the stories he shared, what do you think he means by that?
  • Reflect on the story of Archbishop Gustavo’s response when migrants died in the back of a trailer. How did he respond? What was your reaction to the story of what happened and his response?

Episode 2: “Vocation” with Joanna Williams, the Executive Director of the Kino Border Initiative

Joanna Williams is the Executive Director of the Kino Border Initiative (KBI). KBI is a binational program that includes a shelter and soup kitchen for migrants in Nogales, Senora, and education and encounter programs, along with advocacy outreach in both the U.S. and Mexico. Joanna shares the story of what brought her to KBI in 2011 and the stories that continue to inspire her work. She reflects on how her migrant ministry is truly a vocation, and how that ministry has been enhanced and deepened through her own motherhood since the recent birth of her daughter.

Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian share the story of Pilar’s vocation as a father, and the sacrifices he has made to support his family on their journey north from Honduras. They also share their own vocational calls to minister at the border. Fr. Brian’s was a call born out of living in Nicaragua, spending a summer at KBI, and focusing on migration in theology studies. Fr. Louie’s was a phone call from the provincial that came by surprise!

Reflection from Scripture: 

“As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.” Matthew 4:18-20

Questions before listening to the episode:

  • Make a list of at least three things that you have a passion or talent for. Describe what you like the most about each one and how you practice and develop it.
  • Reflect on the career of one or both of your parents: what do they do professionally? What do they like most about their career? Do you have desires to follow this career path? Why or why not?
  • Recall an experience when you were asked to do something that you didn’t want to do. What were you asked to do and why did you not want to do it?  How did you end up responding? Why did you respond in this way?

Questions after listening to the episode:

  • Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian reflect on the many sacrifices Pilar has made to help support his family. What struck you about that story? And what sacrifices have your parents made to help support you in your life?
  • Joanna says that people aren’t migrants first, they are humans first. What does she mean by that? And how does that shape a response of “holistic accompaniment” as she describes it?
  • Joanna evokes the image of the border wall and the mesh between the bars. Describe the image and the point she makes by bringing it up.

Episode 3: “Welcoming” with Martha Mercado from Good Neighbor Settlement House

Martha Mercado works at Good Neighbor Settlement House where she is the Welcome Center Program Director and the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) Welcoming Committee Facilitator. Martha shares what she loves about her job, including face-to-face ministry at the welcome center and big-picture coordination of local organizations. She offers her personal reflections on faith and gives thanks for the many “bendiciones” (blessings) that migrants shower on her daily.

Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian recount their celebration of World Day of the Sick in migrant shelters, where they invited migrants to be anointed. At the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Fr. Louie had to adjust some of the language on the fly when he realized most of the people who had come forward for anointing were pregnant women. It didn’t sound quite right to pray that they be “cured” of their pregnancy!

Reflection from Scripture: 

“Continue to love each other like brothers and sisters, and remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this, some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:1-2

Questions before listening to the episode:

  • Read Genesis 18:1-15, the story of Abraham welcoming visitors, who turn out to be messengers of the Lord. What does Abraham do to welcome them? How does God reward Abraham and Sarah for their actions?
  • If you were going to have a party or celebration at your house, what would be the things you and your family would do to prepare to welcome guests? What is the purpose of making these preparations?
  • Recall a recent experience when you stayed over at the house of a friend or family member. Did you feel welcome there? Why or why not?

Questions after listening to the episode:

  • When reflecting on her role with the RGV Welcoming Committee, Martha emphasizes her belief in “collective power.” What does she mean by that? What is one example you can think of when collective power has helped to bring about change?
  • Martha and Fr. Brian have an exchange discussing “infrastructure” on the border. How do they characterize the state of infrastructure on the border, and what specifically does Martha outline as the infrastructure that the border is currently lacking?
  • During the interview, Martha spends a few minutes reflecting on faith. What are your biggest takeaways from her reflections? What part of her reflections resonated with your own experience of faith?

Episode 4: “Responding to Needs” with Fr. Rafael García, SJ, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in El Paso, TX

Fr. Rafael García, SJ, is the pastor of Sacred Heart Church in El Paso, TX. He shares from his own background as a migrant fleeing Cuba for Miami, and how this inspired his deep care for migrants and his mission to the border city of El Paso. His church made the news in the winter when they opened up their gymnasium to house migrants in response to a pressing need in the community. Since opening their doors, they have continued to offer food and overnight shelter.

Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian reflect on their own experience of responding to needs. With the CBP One app currently serving as the only means for migrants in northern Mexico to access appointments at U.S. ports of entry, having a smartphone is essential. So imagine the exacerbation of an Ecuadorian couple in Senda 2 who had one phone stolen in southern Mexico, and dropped the other in a gutter. It was time to issue a call to search desk drawers to help this couple out!

 Reflection from Scripture: 

“If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” James 2:15-16

Questions before listening to the episode:

  • Think about a time when you wanted something that was too expensive for you to buy for yourself. How did you respond? Did you end up getting what you wanted? Why or why not? How did you end up feeling about it all?
  • Describe an experience where you felt like you were generous with someone else. What motivated your generosity? How did it leave you feeling? 
  • What is the longest you have gone without having use and access to your cell phone? What was the experience like?

Questions after listening to the episode:

  • After listening to Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian tell the story of an Ecuadorian couple unable to get an appointment through the CBP One app without a smartphone, make a list of three to five inherent inequalities in using an app as the only means to access appointments to seek relief in the United States.
  • During his interview, Fr. Rafael describes an encounter with a person on the sidewalk outside of his church, criticizing them for welcoming migrants. How did Fr. Rafael respond? What did you think of his response?
  • Fr. Rafael shares the story of José, a man from El Salvador whom he met in an ICE detention center. Recount his story and what struck you the most about it.

Episode 5: “The Joy of the Gospel” with Pastor Carlos Navarro from the Baptist Church in West Brownsville, TX

Pastor Carlos Navarro runs the Baptist Church in West Brownsville, TX. Pastor Navarro got a call from the Brownsville mayor a few years ago to help receive migrants. That phone call turned into a shelter that he continues to run today, along with the everyday operations of his ministry. Pastor Navarro also shares from his own experience as a migrant from Guatemala, and the unlikely path he took from San Francisco bartender to Baptist pastor.

Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian reflect on celebrating Mass with migrants during Lent and some of the difficulties of conveying the joy of the Gospel when the musical selections can be so somber. They also reflect on the joy that begins every celebration of Mass they share with migrants, when they call out the countries that people come from. Don’t forget “los gringos!”

 Reflection from Scripture: 

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7

Read Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”) paragraphs 1-8. Then respond to the following questions:

  • What does Pope Francis identify as the source of the joy of the Gospel that fills our hearts and lives? How is this central to our faith?
  • Pope Francis offers many references from Scripture to joy and rejoicing. Identify the three references that stood out to you the most.
  • Pope Francis writes, “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.” What does he mean by that?
  • Think of an example of someone you know who lives the joy of the Gospel in their life. What marks them as a joyful person? How do they inspire you?

Questions after listening to the episode:

  • Why do Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian focus so much on conveying the joy of the Gospel, even in the midst of a liturgical season like Lent? What do you think the value is of focusing on joy for migrants who suffer from the dangers and difficulties on their journey?
  • What does Pastor Navarro say distinguishes his ministry to migrants from organizations like the United Way, the Red Cross, and World Vision? What do you think are some possible advantages and disadventages to his approach?
  • When Pastor Navarro welcomes people from different countries, he uses a variety of ways to connect with them and their local culture, and to bring a smile to their faces. What are some of the things that he mentions? How do you think his approach helps people feel more welcome and more joyful?

Episode 6: “The Art of Storytelling ” with Laura Peña, attorney and activist from the RGV and host of a new podcast, Valle de Sueños

Laura Peña is the new Director of ProBAR, the South Texas pro bono asylum representation project. She is also the host of the new podcast, Valle de Sueños, which tells the story of the rolldown of the “Remain in Mexico” policy in 2021 in Matamoros, Mexico. As a Rio Grande Valley native, Laura shares the joys and challenges of living on the border and the beautiful networks that form among advocates when they work together for a common cause.

Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian explore the art of storytelling and reflect upon how this podcast has been not only a useful tool for their ministry but also a means for them to personally reflect more deeply upon their own experiences. They share some of their favorite stories that have come out of the podcast, and they talk about some of the limitations of the medium, like the obstacles preventing them from including interviews with migrants themselves.

 Reflection from Scripture: 

“All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, to fulfill what had been said through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world.’” Matthew 13:34-35

Questions before listening to the episode:

  • What is one of your favorite stories (from a book, movie, television show, etc.)? What is it that you like so much about the story? What is something that the story teaches us?
  • What is a favorite memory of your family and childhood? Tell the story in your own words, and why it is so important to you.
  • Look up the “Remain in Mexico” policy. What was it? Offer at least one critique of the program that characterizes it as unreasonable or unjust.

Questions after listening to the episode:

  • Having listened to Fr. Louie, Fr. Brian, and Laura reflect on their use of podcasts as a way of storytelling, describe some of the advantages and disadvantages of audio podcasts in comparison with other media, like video or writing.
  • Laura shares the story of “Antonio,” who is featured in her podcast, as one of the “forgotten.” Recount his story and what struck you the most about it.
  • Laura speaks about growing up as a native to the Rio Grande Valley and shares an image in her memory of riding her bike along the levee by the river. Describe the image with the sights and sounds she shares. What point is she trying to make with this image?

Episode 7: “The Examen” with Fr. James Martin, S.J., best-selling author and editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America

Fr. James Martin, SJ,  is a best-selling author and editor-at-large at America Magazine, along with hosting a podcast on the Ignatian Examen. The Examen is a contemplative prayer of reflecting on the moments of your day, noticing how God has been at work, and considering how you responded.

For this episode, Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian turn the interview around and invite Fr. Martin to interview them and lead them on a guided Examen of their nearly two years of ministry on the U.S.-Mexico border. They reflect on moments of growth and grace, of challenge and failure. They share stories that have meant so much to them, like when children carried the cross around the Reynosa plaza on Good Friday, or when Fr. Louie went looking for displaced migrant friends at local Reynosa shelters the day after the plaza was forcibly cleared out. They highlight two people who inspire them, Rafael Cortes and Sr. Rose Kuhn, and even spend a few minutes saying nice things about each other. They conclude the episode (and the season) with a prayer, for all the migrants that they have encountered carrying their crosses and in gratitude for this ministry that reveals the face of Christ daily.

 Reflection from Scripture: 

“And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17

Questions before listening to the episode:

  • Who is someone in your life who inspires you? Describe what it is about them and their lives that inspire you.
  • Look up the Ignatian Examen. What is it and what are the typical steps?
  • Following the steps you listed above, pray an Ignatian Examen for 5-10 minutes. What specific moments stood out to you and why?

Questions after listening to the episode:

  • In this episode, Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian share a lot of stories from their ministry and from people who inspire them. What is one story that stuck out to you? Recount that story and what struck you the most about it.
  • One part of the Ignatian Examen involves looking at your regrets, mistakes, or sins. What did Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian share during this part of their Examen? What is your reaction to what they had to share?
  • Fr. Louie and Fr. Brian conclude the episode by offering a prayer for all the migrants that they have encountered. Having listened to their prayer and their reflections on ministry with migrants on the border, write a prayer for migrants in your own words.

Brian Strassburger, SJ   /   All posts by Brian