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A Grandfather’s Legacy

by Anonymous last modified May 17, 2019 02:31 AM

One day Billy was very sick and on the way home, he lost consciousness. When he had awakened, Billy was at the front door of his house. My grandfather, at the risk of being fired and breaking city regulations, had driven his bus off route and drove several blocks on the side streets to deliver Billy into the arms of his mother. It was reminiscent to Jesus healing the crippled man on a Sabbath (Matthew 12: 10-15), a violation of the Sabbath laws. Like Jesus, my grandfather believed that compassion should not be limited by law.

                                   A Grandfather’s Legacy

chrisby Fr. Chris Saenz

 Fr Chris is a Columban priest presently assigned in the US.

 

When I was ordained in the year 2000, I envisioned myself serving in foreign missions and eventually dying “with my boots on.” However, at the close of our first centenary I found myself returning home after seventeen years in Chile, South America. It was hard to leave a land and people that I have come to consider as my own. Yet, a sense of urgency came over me as I returned to the United States to do home mission.

I was confronted by a nation that had completely changed since I left it in 2000. The social and political climates have become very polarized and at their hearth is immigration.  I found myself looking to the past and finding guidance from my deceased grandfather, Augustine Ramirez, as I go forward in this mission.

grandparents

Augustine and Jesse Ramirez, Father Chris’ grandparents

My grandfather Auggie, as many called him, was born in Leon de Mexico and came to the USA illegally when he was an adolescent. He was a migrant worker for many years and eventually settled in Topeka, Kansas, where he became a city bus driver. In time, he began his own janitorial business and worked the business until he was 92 years old.  He passed away in January of 2011 at the age of 96. 

At his funeral an elderly gentleman, Billy Gomez, came forward to tell me a story. One day Billy was very sick and on the way home, he lost consciousness.  When he had awakened, Billy was at the front door of his house.  My grandfather, at the risk of being fired and breaking city regulations, had driven his bus off route and drove several blocks on the side streets to deliver Billy into the arms of his mother.  It was reminiscent to Jesus healing the crippled man on a Sabbath (Matthew 12: 10-15), a violation of the Sabbath laws.  Like Jesus, my grandfather believed that compassion should not be limited by law.

Today, my grandfather’s experience would describe the reality of the many Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) dreamers living in the USA.  Like them, he had come to consider the United States his home.  He was an avid Kansas State Wildcat football fan and wore the K state’s colors with pride.  He paid taxes and social security for decades knowing that as an illegal migrant, he would never receive those benefits. He was blessed with a long and healthy life, but for many years, he lived in fear of being deported. However, what terrified him most was the possibility of being separated from his family. 

Therefore, after being in the country for more than 60 years, my grandfather took the first steps to become a U.S. citizen.  Finally, at the age of 80 he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen in 1994. 

Given my grandfather’s legacy, and the biblical imperative to welcome the stranger and foreigner (Exodus 22: 21; Deuteronomy 10: 19; Matthew 25: 31-46), I felt compelled to direct my pastoral efforts in my home mission by accompanying our brothers and sisters from other countries.  Currently, I visit Hispanics in a local jail who have been detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for illegal entry into the USA.  Many of them had escaped violent and difficult economic situations in their country of origin to look for a better life. One such example is Juan from Guatemala. Juan, as an adolescent, had witnessed his grandmother being murdered by gangs. Having no family left in Guatemala and no security, Juan left his home country to join his family in the USA. Juan found work in restaurants and in construction.  One day, Juan had a flat tire which caused him a minor car accident.  He was detained after being asked for documentation and failing to provide any. Juan pleaded for asylum but, unfortunately, was deported back to Guatemala.   His story is like many others I have encountered and I can’t ignore their plight. Bringing compassion to a difficult situation is my grandfather’s legacy, and a Columban priority for the next 100 years.

youngcris 

 Father Chris, in his younger years, with grandfather Auggie

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