Observations from the border
On a recent trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, I visited the San Felipe de Jesus parish in Brownsville, Texas, led by Marist priest Father Tony O’Connor, whose work includes assisting unaccompanied minors. There, I met dedicated lay and religious workers and volunteers, all helping asylum seekers on both sides of the border.
Two separate groups of unaccompanied boys come to San Felipe to receive a meal every day. They come for Mass and breakfast in the morning, and in the evening for dinner. We attended Mass at the parish, and ate breakfast with them afterward. We talked soccer, flight and dreams. We asked them where they intended to go and what they wanted to do. Destinations included Alabama, Georgia and Maryland. Several had been waiting over six months to reunite with family and friends. Most hope to go to school and all want to work and help their families. They were a mix of timid, lively and sad.
Father O’Connor reports that a number of boys that pass through the parish’s doors are depressed, and many cut themselves. As the mother of two sons, their energy and spirits were familiar to me, and I pray that they will be loved and protected during this tender and difficult age — and even more so given their circumstances.
After Mass and visiting with the boys, Father O’Connor introduced us to several sisters and lay workers from the church. One of the older sisters, Sister Marta, had just returned from a visit to Honduras, where she had previously taught for many years at a Catholic school before coming to the United States. She shared her concerns about country conditions in Honduras and the mounting violence that so many people face. She also told us how many of her students lacked hope for the future of their country. One of her former students — a young woman who has a degree in law — told Sr. Marta of her own plans to travel to the United States. Despite her degree and qualifications, the former student feels that her country is hopeless and looks to migration as the solution. She wondered who will stay in Honduras, and other countries in similar situations, if faith and community-based organizations, communities, leaders and governments do not work together to promote dignity. As I listened to Sister Marta, I was reminded of the right to development, or the right not to migrate, and how they are two sides of the same humanitarian coin.
We also met with one of San Felipe’s strongest volunteers, another Marta. The mother and grandmother was born in Mexico and is a naturalized U.S. citizen. When we arrived that morning, I noticed a large SUV parked outside and full of supplies, food, clothing, among others. It was Marta’s vehicle. She regularly travels to the poor ranchos in Matamoros to share necessities and small appliances with the residents. She shared her story with us. Marta grew up in a loving, but very poor, family in Matamoros. Her mother taught her to share and love all as “thy neighbor.” She always took her children with her on her visits to communities in Matamoros and now takes her grandchildren. Marta explained to us that she is simply replicating what her own mother did by teaching her children and grandchildren how to live and to be in this world through compassion, humility and faith.
I returned humbled and invigorated after this trip. I am so lucky to do this work alongside passionate and inspiring people.