January 1, 2020

by Kyra Epstein, Commonweal Communications Manager

At the border, Pancho climbs the metal turnstile to tie a miniature earth flag amidst the barbed wire.

For 95 days this past spring, Francisco Ramos Stierle, known as “Pancho,” walked a rambling but “heartmindful” route from Oakland, California, to Tijuana, Mexico. Carrying a flag with an image of the earth on it, he walked more than 600 miles, raising awareness about the critical situation facing immigrants at the Mexican/United States border.

“I was asking the question: what is alive, what could amplify love and compassion?” Pancho said. “There is conflict and control at the border, but not compassion. And I was trusting that people of love and compassion would come to the journey.”

And they did. Pancho’s pilgrimage— an idea conceived at Commonweal’s Fall Gathering in 2018—touched hearts and minds as he walked, inspiring youth and elders. Some joined him for parts of the long walk; others stopped to watch or offer shelter and food. Still others from a partner non-profit organization, ServiceSpace, formed a ground team to support this pilgrimage to create an “overground railroad”—one that honors the sacred act of migration. On his 95th day of walking, Pancho walked the last three miles with a group of people carrying earth flags, figures, and banners of migratory species. One of those walking with him was Commonweal Gift of Compassion program co-director, Angela Oh.

“When he arrived at the border, there were two lines: one for Mexican citizens and one for “foreigners,” Angela said. “Pancho climbed up on the metal turnstile and tied a miniature earth flag amidst the barbed wire. He refused to pick one of the two citizenship lines, calling himself a ‘citizen of the world.’”

At the church sanctuary, the practice
of bringing body, mind, and spirit
together as one is a teaching that is
never too early to share.

“Yes, they don’t know what to do with me,” Pancho agreed. “The Mexican authorities handed me to the U.S. Border Patrol where I was detained for three days. Once I was released in Tijuana, I was introduced to the Foundation Gifting Love (in Spanish, Regalando Amor), to the shelters the church has there for immigrants in Tijuana’s Divine Providence neighborhood.”

After seeing the shelter’s great work—as well as the immigrant community’s need for it—both Pancho and Angela joined in the efforts to support it. The result is a collaborative project called “Love and Compassion in Action” (Amor y Compasión en Acción).

The two shelters provide spiritual and physical sustenance to those in the process of transition and transformation. The programs rely on principles of kindness, equanimity, and self-awareness in the service of humanity. Right now there are close to 350 migrants and refugees, the vast majority women, children, and teens.

“The church has been giving everything to these families,” said Angela. “We know that there are resources in the part of the earth we call the United States that we could get to the shelter. We want these shelters to be able to continue treating people as family, and to facilitate collective healing—through yoga, conversation, meditation, and holistic health, the way we work with other groups in our Gift of Compassion program. We want to build a channel to send love and compassion to these immigrants.”

“Most of my biological family lives in the part of the planet we call Mexico City,” Pancho said. “But it doesn’t matter where we are. We need to bloom where we are. We all are citizens of the world.”

If you want to help, you can send a donation of money, food, medicine, or other aid. You can help with the delivery of goods. Work crews are always needed as well. To find specific needs, or to make a donation, go to the Gift of Compassion’s website: gocompassion.org.

The Gift of Compassion program thanks the Whitman Institute and the California Endowment for their generous funding.