One woman heeds the call to love neighbors with reckless mercy

To know what it means to love our neighbor as Christ loves us, look to our brothers and sisters at the border.
Peace & Justice

I found myself incredibly angry in 2020. It seemed to be the year where all the tension inside me, all the injustice around me, all the indifference I was seeing consumed me. Unemployed toward the end of the year, I also found myself with more time than usual to think, to sit in my anger, to pray.

A few months into my unemployment, I realized scrolling through social media and sitting at home frustrated with the world weren’t doing me or anyone else any good. I live in El Paso, Texas, a major border town where I come face to face with the reality of the lives of our migrant brothers and sisters. I discovered through social media that organizations in the area were looking for volunteers to work as a welcome committee for incoming migrants.

I started volunteering every day for a few hours at one of the border entrances in El Paso. In those few months I learned truly what it means to love our neighbor as God loves us. I spent time standing at the front doors of the organization and welcoming families into the country, assisting them with travel details, finding appropriate shelter accommodations, and answering any other questions or concerns they had.

I met families daily who had stories that brought tears to my eyes, their resiliency pouring out in their courage to make the journey despite all the injustice and evils that often awaited them. I watched mothers cross with their children clinging to them, eyes wide open as they took in the Franklin Mountains and the El Paso skyline. I watched fathers sigh in relief the moment they crossed through the Border Patrol doors, calling their families in tears and shouting that they finally made it. Because of COVID-19 we worked to keep physical contact at a limit, but I will never forget the day when a little girl from Central America ran through the threshold straight into my arms, hugging me tightly and saying in Spanish, “I made it. We are here now!”

Before I volunteered at the border, I attended a border Mass in 2019. It was an incredibly powerful event. I witnessed two countries come together at the river to celebrate the liturgy. I watched Christ walk with us despite our divided nations. I cried during the sign of peace as both sides of the river waved to each other. I watched a bridge get made at 6 a.m. that Saturday and saw it bring more grace into the world than any wall ever could.


My time at the border is marked by these stories that I will carry with me because they remind me and others what it means to love our neighbor as Christ loves us—a love that is reckless with mercy, a love that is welcoming with compassion, a love that beckons every person to the table and says, “There is space for you here.” At the border I encountered Christ. In every person I met, in every face, in every shared moment of laughter, anxiety, joy, and sorrow—I saw the face of Christ in my brothers and sisters. And that encounter is what changes everything.

This article also appears in the November 2021 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 86, No. 11, pages 14-15). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: George Martell/The Pilot Media Group. A young child peeks through the U.S.-Mexico border wall during a border Mass.

About the author

Vanesa Zuleta Goldberg

Vanesa Zuleta Goldberg has worked in youth ministry for 13 years—as a youth minister, Franciscan Youth Volunteer, worship leader, and speaker. She received her bachelor's degree in theology from Providence College and her master's degree in theology and ministry from Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, concentrating on how a Pentecost revival is occurring with the lives of Latinx youth in the Catholic Church.

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