NETWORK Reflects on the Do Not Be Afraid March and Vigil in El Paso

Tenemos Esperanza! Choosing Compassion in a Time of Scapegoating

Colin Martinez Longmore
April 4, 2024

A beacon of hope shone brightly in EL Paso, Texas, the evening of March 21, 2024 as hundreds gathered for the “Do Not Be Afraid” March and Vigil for Human Dignity, hosted by the Diocese of El Paso and Hope Border Institute. The march and vigil, a show of solidarity with asylum seekers and migrants, powerfully displayed unity in the face of adversity.

Ruben Garcia, Annunciation House, “Esta noche, todos somos Casa Anuncion (Tonight, we are all Annunciation House)”

Ruben Garcia speaks at the “Do not be afraid” march and vigil. Mary J. Novak is second from left holding the banner.

Over the past few months in the U.S., persistent hostility and scapegoating of migrants–and the direct service providers who aid them–has taken a sharper turn, particularly in Texas. Annunciation House, a network of shelters that receives and assists vulnerable asylum seekers, was targeted in unjust political probes.  Additionally, troubling state legislation like S.B. 4, which would allow local law enforcement to racially profile and arrest anyone suspected of being an undocumented migrant, was also signed into law (although it has not taken effect yet due to court challenges). Despite these actions, faith and borderland organizations showed they were unafraid. At the invitation of El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz, NETWORK Executive Director Mary J. Novak and I were proud to join them in offering support and prayer from the NETWORK community, and our help strategizing a way forward.

Bishop Mark Seitz, Diocese of El Paso said, “The work of God can never be made illegal”

Bishop Mark Seitz, Diocese of El Paso

The rally began in San Jacinto Plaza and drew a diverse crowd, including many Catholic Sisters, religious and clergy, students, leaders from different faith traditions, as well as local and national organizations serving migrants.

NETWORK Reflects on the Do Not Be Afraid vigil and march in El Paso, Texas

left to right, Elvira Ramirez (Executive Director, Maryknoll Lay Missioners), Mary Novak (Executive Director, NETWORK), and Sister Genie Natividad (Vice President Maryknoll Sisters)

Hope as a form of resistance against fearmongering was emphasized by the speakers who also held up the shameful criminalization of compassion; welcoming the stranger — a fundamental principle of faith — cannot be made illegal. We proclaimed in one voice, which rang out through the plaza: We have hope!Tenemos Esperanza! 

Marchers at the "Do Not Be Afraid" Vigil

Marchers at the “Do Not Be Afraid” Vigil

From the plaza, the crowd moved to Sacred Heart Church, where we filled every pew. The interfaith vigil, led by the Bishops of El Paso, testified to the city’s resilience and unity. Local leaders from across religious traditions, migrant organizations, and even asylum seekers spoke powerfully of solidarity and led the community in prayer.

The "Do Not Be Afraid" Vigil for Human Dignity at Sacred Heart Church

Attendees of the “Do Not Be Afraid” Vigil at Sacred Heart Church, El Paso, TX

The Holy Spirit’s presence was palpable throughout the evening, encouraging everyone to reject the fear and division often weaponized against communities like El Paso. As we enter this election season, we have clarity about the continued challenges that lie ahead for our migrant siblings and the communities that welcome them. However, our time in El Paso reminded us there is light and hope in the collective compassion and actions of communities standing together.