By Christine Cusick

There are rows and rows of tents, separated by narrow aisles of approximately four feet. Some of the tents are lit by artwork and vibrant colors, human longing to create a sense of home even in displacement. Br. Joe Kotula, ofm, describes this scene with care and detail, revealing how deeply the image remains with him weeks later, remarking that “It really is hard to understand without being there and experiencing it.”

And so it was a particular gift to chat with Br. Joe about his most recent trip to the Texas / Mexico border, the extension of a retreat experience with the friar community. He noted that after arduous and often dangerous journeys, the migrants in these centers endured cycles of waiting, at the mercy of a lottery on a phone app and often random chance that they would even get an interview to make a plea for their refuge.

Perhaps most moving was Br. Joe’s account of a very young girl, no taller than his waist, who when she saw the procession of visitors walking the path between the tents, on their way to a gathering where they would learn about process and policy, gave each visitor a spontaneous hug, a gesture of unconditional welcome into what had become her community.

And this is what struck me most when listening to Br. Joe’s thoughtful stories: that in the midst of debates about lawmaking and priorities that we must also never lose sight of human dignity, of the instinct and lesson of a little girl who, without hesitation, welcomed strangers into her circle.