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Film depicts parallels between immigrants and annual Advent Posadas celebration

A 55-minute documentary, “Posada,” tells the stories of unaccompanied immigrant children, drawing a parallel between their journeys and the traditional Mexican Advent Las Posadas procession and stirring concern about attitudes toward and treatment of immigrants.

Mark McGregor
Mark McGregor, SJ

The Rev. Mark McGregor, SJ, of Gonzaga University Ministry and adjunct communication arts teacher, wrote, directed and produced “Posada,” subtitled “A Night to Cross All Borders,” as his debut film.

He will show it as part of the Catholicism for the New Millennium series at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 4, at Cataldo Hall at Gonzaga University. Scott Cooper, director of Parish Social Services with Catholic Charities, and Gonzaga student Ivonne Guillen will share in a discussion after the film.

“Posada,” Mark explained, “means ‘shelter’ in Spanish.”

The film raises issues about immigration reform addressed by the U.S. Catholic bishops’ “Justice for Immigrants: A Journey of Hope: the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform,” which was launched in 2005, Mark said.

It is also part of Las Posadas Project, a nationwide project which promotes celebrations of Las Posadas in Advent as a way to spread hospitality and solidarity. Gonzaga University is planning a Posadas procession at 9:30 p.m., before the 10 p.m., Mass at St. Aloysius Catholic Church on Sunday, Dec. 7. Mark also encourages participation with St. Joseph’s Catholic Church’s Las Posadas procession on Friday, Dec. 19, said Ramon Carranza, vice president of La Raza, which is co-sponsoring the event with University Ministry.

For 2008, Las Posadas Project suggests a theme for each of the nine days of celebration— dignity, human solidarity, immigrants, solidarity, hospitality, perseverance, justice, hope and Christmas.

Mark spent three years as a child in Panama, where his father was in the military.  When his family moved to Oak Harbor, Wash., they drove through Central America and Mexico. His eye-opening childhood experience of living in and traveling through Central America and seeing the poverty there stirred his concern about immigration.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1984 from  Seattle University, Mark completed the master’s program in Jesuit philosophy at Gonzaga University in 1988. From the next four years, he taught Latin American history at Seattle Preparatory School.  He was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1996 and earned a master’s in fine arts at the Loyola Marymount School of Film in 2002.
While there, he also served as chaplain at the Central Juvenile Hall, where he met Amalia Molina, a volunteer chaplain and immigrant from El Salvador.  She and her husband had been detained for 16 months in a federal detention center.  Through her he met three teenage detainees who subsequently wanted to tell their stories in “Posada.”

When Mark left to teach at Fairfield University in Connecticut from 2003 to 2007, he carried a vision to do a film to tell Amalia’s story. She preferred that he first “tell the children’s stories.”
As he thought of the story of Mary and Joseph going door-to-door, being rejected and finally being welcomed, he realized that Amalia “opens doors for teenage immigrants.”  In 2005, the seed for the film started to grow.

With assistance from Fairfield and Loyola Productions, Inc., he took 10 Fairfield students to shoot the film in December 2006 and January 2007.  Production was completed in March 2007.

The film parallels the inward spiritual journey from rejection to acceptance with the outward journey of unaccompanied youth coming from Latin America, he said.  It also depicts the teens’ spiritual journeys as they learn to rely on God as people help them find shelter.

At one point, one  boy looked at the fence being built along the border and said spontaneously, “Look at the Berlin Wall.  It came down.  I wish there were no more walls in the world.”

Mark, who teaches video, leads liturgies and conducts retreats at Gonzaga, challenges the conditions and human rights abuses that immigrant children face in federal detention centers. 
Despite the cruelty they experience, he sees strong faith among immigrants and their advocates.

“Many are resilient and joyful despite suffering,” he said.

When a bishops’ document, such as the one on immigration, comes out, he believes there is need to inform people of the Scriptures, history and social teachings behind the call for reform.
“We need to prepare people in the pews in a way that inspires commitment to thoughtful advocacy,” he said.

“Jesus’ incarnation is a credible, effective statement for the church to speak on immigration,” Mark said.  “In it, God crosses every border between divinity and humanity to make a home with us.  Jesus’ ministry of preaching, teaching and healing reached out to outsiders.”

Mark advocates a pragmatic, Christian viewpoint toward 12 million undocumented people who are lured to the United States to serve “our economic needs,” he said. “Our relationship with immigrants benefits our economy and society, but we leave the immigrants in the shadows, vulnerable and scapegoated.

“The bishops oppose building a wall that divides people and land,” he said.  “They call for enhancing guest worker programs that reflect needs in the economy.”

Along with rallies and marches for immigration reform, the Posadas Project invites people to join Posadas processions, to pray for immigrants and hear stories about past and present immigrants.
“It seeks to plant seeds for Catholics to respond with greater concern,” said Mark, who coordinates the project, “which may include going to marches and rallies.

“Before supporting advocacy, we need to experience at Christmas our call to be better Christians and neighbors,” he said.  “We promote posadas to promote justice for immigrants as we prepare for Christmas and make room for God in our lives.”

“Posada” won the best short documentary at the October 2008 Orlando Hispanic Film Festival and won Human Rights and Religion prize  in December 2007 at the Religion Today Film Festival in Trent, Italy.

For information, call 313-4239, visit posadas-project.com or email mcgregor2@gonzaga.edu.