by Cecilie Kern
Cecilie is a new Loretto Volunteer, who is serving as an Immigration Paralegal at CARECEN, the Central American Resource Center, in Washington DC.
Arriving at the Loretto Motherhouse in early August, I was a bit unsure. Was this really the right place for me? Yes, I was excited and hopeful for my year of service in Washington D.C., and yes, I understood the goals of participating in the Loretto Volunteers’ orientation program, but still I wondered if this was the direction I should take. Since graduating from college, I had contemplated everything from law school to graduate studies in Spanish literature. I had imagined pursuing careers in fields as diverse as health policy and linguistics. So what was I doing here, in Nerinx, Kentucky?
Thankfully, I received some signs that week that this was right where God intended me to be. In getting to know my fellow volunteers, I found we had a lot in common: shared interests and personality traits, associations with similar places and even some mutual acquaintances. Most remarkable, though, were the interactions I had with the sisters at the Motherhouse. I spent time with Sister Eileen, who taught my aunts at Loretto Academy in El Paso, Texas. I swapped stories with Sister Betty, who, like me, had worked at the United Nations in New York. I had dinner with Sister Cecily, with whom I share not one, but two names – her religious name, and her birth name, Margaret. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any more auspicious or extraordinary, I met Sister Jeannette, who lived in my hometown of Palo Alto for many years. In Palo Alto, Sister Jeannette went to daily mass with Lucia Mensick, who was my Confirmation sponsor, and who remains a dear family friend. Mrs. Mensick attended mass with my family every Saturday evening, and lovingly hosted us for many Easters and Thanksgivings. Coincidence? I think not. These incredible connections assured me that I was in the right place, and opened my eyes to the guiding hand of God in my life. The places I had been and the relationships I had formed, even from a very early age, were all pointing to Loretto. It was part of the plan.
As all these connections emerged, “It’s a Small World (After All),” perhaps the most annoying and pervasive earworm ever, settled in my mind and began its relentless repeating loop. (My sincere apologies to those who, after reading this, are similarly afflicted.) After listening to the song in my head for days and weeks, I started to think about the lyrics of the song – not the infamous chorus, but the verses. The theme of the song is peace and solidarity among people from many backgrounds, a sentiment that is reflected in the core values of the Loretto Community. “I Am the Way,” Loretto’s constitution, calls for us to “work for justice, and act for peace.” During my first month in Washington, I have been challenged by the value of social justice – inspired by the past, engaged by the present, and fighting for the future.
August marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. On Wednesday, August 28th, I had the opportunity to take time from work and join with thousands of others at the Lincoln Memorial to remember and celebrate the remarkable events of the summer of 1963. The atmosphere was uplifting – a wonderful mix of nostalgic and hopeful – with people singing “Lean on Me” and carrying signs that broadcast messages of gratitude and reform. The occasion called to mind the great work of past leaders in the name of social justice. Dr. King didn’t just fight for civil rights. He had a comprehensive concept of justice that called for a fair economy and rights for all people. The atmosphere in front of the Lincoln Memorial fifty years later was a reminder that the spirit of Dr. King is still very much alive, and there is still much work to be done.
At the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), I encounter the challenge of social justice every day in my work as an immigration paralegal. Having no previous experience in the area of immigration law, I have learned a lot over the past month from the encounters I have had with clients. I have also heard my fair share of heartbreaking stories and circumstances, where family members are kept apart because of difficult requirements and backlogs that cause extraordinarily long wait-times for immigration benefits. In talking to a man who has not seen his wife since moving to the United States 24 years ago, my eyes were opened to the desperate need for compassionate immigration reform. I am aware that by being present and by learning as much as I can, I can better meet obstacles and help those who are vulnerable before a complex immigration system.
Current events illuminate the global need for justice. The horrific civil war now underway in Syria has resulted in the deaths of thousands and displacement of millions of innocent people. In response to the heartfelt appeal of Pope Francis to abandon a military solution to the conflict in Syria, members of Junia House, accompanied by Maureen Fiedler, SL, joined with others to advocate for a peaceful US role in the conflict. The group that marched with us on September 7th had diverse interests and motivations, yet shared the same desire for peace and justice. As we proceeded from the White House to the Capitol Building, I was mindful that, despite the magnitude of the problems facing our families, neighborhoods and global community, it is still important to stand up and voice our opinions. We must remain strong in the hope that our participation, motivated by the Holy Spirit, can influence policy and make a positive difference in the world.
It is a big world, with daunting problems. Yet, as I have discovered first-hand, it is a small world, and our lives are interwoven, one with another. Unlike an amusement ride, in which boats are fixed to a metal rail and their course predicted, God gives us the freedom to choose our own paths. Still, I find it reassuring that God gives us guidance along the way – people and experiences – that help to make the big world seem a little smaller. As my year as a Loretto Volunteer unfolds, I am humbled to work alongside others, and to find ways to make the world a little better.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.