Immigration: A Paschal Mystery Experience
By: Jonathan Brieva Romero
Diocese of El Paso, TX – Theology 1
I was blessed to join a group of seminarians and our formators Fr Ray Webb and Sr. Kathleen Mitchell from Mundelein Seminary, on a visit to Nogales, Arizona (USA) and Nogales, Sonora (Mex), located on the southern border between the United States and Mexico. The goal of the mission experience was to know first-hand a little bit about the reality of immigrants at the border. I would like to share a story with you about one of the encounters we had there. The names have been changed and details modified to protect the integrity and dignity of the persons in the narrative.
This is the story of Horacio and his family. These beautiful people, originally from Central America, arrived at the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) shelter a couple of months ago. To be more precise, they arrived at the beginning of fall, 2022. They had fled from their own country because their lives were at risk. The family and relatives were surrounded by persecution, human rights violations, and homicides. This situation made them feel threatened and forced them to abandon their home. In this regard, and with tears on their faces, they shared with all of us the journey they had to embrace to save their lives.
This family used to have a piece of land where they grew some vegetables, raised animals, and had fruit trees for their own needs; they had a stable life. Both parents were striving to raise their children as well as possible while providing them with a good education based on moral and Christian values. There was progress in their lives, in fact, one of the oldest children had recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree, which was a first for the family. Also, the other children were in high school: one was a sophomore and the other a senior, and both kids wanted to complete their studies, learn a profession and help their parents and sister (Esmeralda) to have a better life in their homeland. Esmeralda is the youngest of six children. Her name means emerald, a precious treasure for the family. She was born with profound health issues that require special attention and dependence on her parents. Nevertheless, Esmeralda’s condition cannot stop her from expressing her emotions and her own personality to her family. Her eyes are as bright as two shining stars, revealing the hope and strength given by the grace of God to the whole family through her. When we saw the mom looking after Esmeralda with so much love, care, and compassion, it was impossible not to think of Mary taking care of the baby Jesus, protecting him and giving him everything for his safety. Also, this image of a mom with her daughter is an allegory of the love of God for his children.
Horacio decided that they were leaving for the sake of the whole family, even when not everyone in the family wanted to flee. This is how they all ended up in Nogales, Sonora. The city is very close to the US border, with a huge iron wall that splits the city in two. This wall was erected under the guise of security, showing the incapacity of all the governments involved to create agreements and regulations that prioritizes the lives of the migrants. The iron wall in Nogales shows the lack of charity among human beings. This wall is the symbol of a broken society, which seeks its own good and not the common good, violating all the principles of natural law and moral values. The wall represents inequality and injustice.
Horacio’s family is in this city waiting for asylum at the US border. They spent all their savings on housing and food. One day, they were wandering around the city without food, water, or shelter. They were forced to sleep in the streets. However, they heard of the Kino Border Initiative shelter (KBI). This “is a binational project/effort, including a Roman Catholic organization, inspired by the spirituality of the Jesuits and Missionaries of the Eucharist; KBI is locally rooted in Ambos Nogales on the Mexico-US border and uses a regional approach throughout Central America and North America” (KBI Website). There, Horacio’s family received shelter, clean clothes, warm meals and more importantly, a safe place for the whole family, especially Esmeralda. They will be there until they await the resolution of their asylum request from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office.
This is just one example that shows the real situation of the migrants at the border. It has become a human tragedy for many. Fortunately, there are welcoming places such as KBI in Nogales or Casa Alitas, which is another program of Catholic Community Services (CCS), in Tucson, Arizona. This shelter “is a humanitarian aid project committed to providing assistance to asylum-seekers released from ICE and Border Patrol detention into our community.” From this place comes our second story about Maria, a grandmother from Venezuela. We found her seated by herself; her face showed profound distress and confusion due to the reality she was experiencing: being forced to leave her country. While we were talking with her, we could see our grandmother represented there, sweet, and funny, but in her case helpless. She said: “I would never imagine that something like this could happen to me; ‘la migra nos separó a todos.’ We were all separated from our family members without any further notice. Our belongings were taken away and I lost my medicine. I do not know what I am going to do, which is not good.” This situation is a small proof of the inhumane treatment that people are receiving at the border, where in some cases the system deprives people of their basic rights.
Looking at these testimonies and contemplating their realities, the image of the Holy Family is present, for “Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt… Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.’ Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt” (Mat 2:13-14). Just imagine the whole situation; the Son of God with his parents in this extreme weather of the desert, walking in the night, without enough water or food. Yet, the Holy Family always had trust in God. The migrants are human beings; therefore, they should not be seen as a threat or a danger to society. The only thing these families are looking for is safety, freedom, and peace. Pope Francis says that “The ultimate meaning of our ‘journey’ in this world is the search for our true homeland, the Kingdom of God inaugurated by Jesus Christ… a Kingdom that has not yet been brought to fulfilment, though it is already present in those who have accepted the salvation he offers us” (From Pope Francis’ Address at the 108th World Day of Migrants and Refugees – 2022).
All this is to say that the migrants have a share in the Paschal Mystery of Christ: Passion, Death, and Resurrection. When we contemplate the journey of a migrant, we can see the Crucifixion of Christ in their bodies, but we can also recognize Christ’s Resurrection in their souls. This is because the sufferings of the migrants are the sufferings of Christ. Their sorrowful vulnerability and their endurance of their crosses might obscure reality, yet the injustice suffered along the path cannot obstruct the grace and hope that has been poured out by God in their lives.
Let us keep praying for the migrants, being attentive to their needs, and remaining hopeful in Christ because he is among us, as a sign of his everlasting love and care for us. For “blessed are those who cry, for they will be comforted; the humble, for they will inherit the earth; those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied” (Matt. 5:4-6).
In summary, “If we want to cooperate with our heavenly Father in building the future, let us do so together with our brothers and sisters who are migrants and refugees. Let us build the future today! For the future begins today and it begins with each of us” (From Pope Francis’ Address at the 108th World Day of Migrants and Refugees – 2022). Let us pray for our brothers and sister that are migrating and those who are waiting for asylum. Let us be one in the body of Christ. Let us announce the strength of the Risen Christ that fills us with his love and builds our hope. Let us “recall the wondrous deeds he has done” (Psalm 105:5).
By: Jonathan Brieva Romero
Diocese of El Paso, TX – Theology 1