In the lives of many people, the week before Christmas is a busy time for mailing cards, shopping for gifts, visiting with friends and attending an assortment of Christmas pageants and parties. However, in many Catholic Churches in both Mexico and the United States, it is also known as a time for Las Posadas. Here at the Casa del Migrante we celebrate this very enriching tradition with great vigor and enthusiasm. The tradition of Las Posadas is a reenactment of what happened just before the first Christmas when Joseph and Mary went from house to house looking for room at the inn. We know they found no room anywhere. As tradition tells us, Jesus was then born in a stable and the Christmas crib under the tree became part of many family celebrations.
There are many different ways of celebrating, but one key element of doing Las Posadas is to divide into two groups – half are outside the door and half are inside the house. The ceremony of Pidiendo Posadas (asking for a place to stay for the night) is summarized in the Song of Las Posadas in which the two groups sing back and forth in a very lively dialogue. Traditionally, the group outside the door of the house will have to knock at three different doors before being invited in with a rousing chorus of Entren Peregrinos, Entren Peregrinos, which loosely translates to Welcome Pilgrims, Welcome Pilgrims. Once this part of the ceremony is finished, there are several different possibilities. However, one thing is for sure, at the end there will be a party that will most likely include tamales, sweets and, of course, a traditional piñata (the image of Donald Trump seems to be very popular this year).
Here at the Casa in Tijuana, we celebrated Las Posadas in a very big way for the nine evenings before Christmas culminating with the Christmas Eve Mass on December 24. You can well imagine this is a very challenging time of the year for the 130 guests at our house (90 percent are deportees), who have been forcefully uprooted and separated from their families at such an important time of the year. In the simple reenactment of Las Posadas, we try to overwhelm them with love and remind them the doors to our Casa are open to them and yes we do have some room at this inn! The reactions we often experience are of great emotion and sometimes shock, as people say: “Why me, I don’t deserve this?”
In reflecting on the very beautiful tradition of Las Posadas, I would venture to say we actually celebrate Las Posadas every single day of the year as 20-30 people on a daily basis knock on our doors asking if there is room at the inn. Needless to say, they do not have to knock three times before we let them in. Thanks to the generosity of so many people who give their time, talent and treasure we are able to keep the doors to the Casa open 365 days of the year and welcome our migrant brothers (Two doors away from us the Scalabrinian sisters operate a Casa for women and children). Let me just say to all of my fellow pilgrims on the journey of life, I am truly grateful for all you do. We simply could not do it without you. However, as I reflect more deeply on this issue, I become more and more convinced that we are not doing enough and that there is so much more we could be doing.
Every year around the third week of December, we gather together for a binational celebration of Posadas at the border along the beach of Tijuana. This year’s celebration of solidarity was held on December 19, and it was truly great to see a gathering of about 300 people on both sides of the border coming together to pray, listen, sing and ultimately ask for Posadas. However, in spite of all our efforts for the 22nd consecutive year, the doors to the United States were not opened and we were basically told once again there is no room at the inn.
To be honest, I was not expecting the gates to be flung wide open so everyone could just march right into the United States. Please do not get me wrong, I am not naively advocating for a system of open borders. However, in the name of the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, I am insisting and hoping for more merciful borders. I am frustrated by the fact that another year has passed and there is no progress to report regarding any kind of immigration reform. This is not just a US issue, as Mexico is also becoming increasingly unwelcoming to the Central American countries on its southern borders. Yes, there are many immigrants south of Mexico who are also being told there is no room at the inn.
Therefore, I wonder in the name of God why we cannot make it easier for the modern day Holy Families to enter the United States from places like Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Libya and Syria. If our country prides itself on being place of “exceptionalism,” why can’t we find a way to make it happen? Why can’t we truly be exceptional when it comes to welcoming immigrants?
On December 8, 2015 Pope Francis officially initiated the Year of Mercy by symbolically opening a Jubilee Door in Rome. In many dioceses throughout the world, the Year of Mercy was eagerly proclaimed with the symbolic opening of doors in many different churches. However, I think Pope Francis urges all people to do much more than to open doors. He has invited all of us to open up the doors to our hearts and live more merciful lives.
It is my I hope and prayer that in 2016 we might give serious thought to the words of Pope Francis by creating mercy-filled migration reform throughout the world and perhaps become a Posada People. Let us strive to create some more room at the inn because at the end of the day this is what it means to follow Jesus. This is what it means to really celebrate Christmas.