SC Federation First Professed
I'm spending my graduate school Thanksgiving break at the border, a place dear to my heart and central to my vocation. Our Sisters have been ministering here, truly on the margins, for almost thirty years. They're currently collaborating with hundreds of people of goodwill to welcome migrants who are released from detention centers daily in huge numbers. Annunciation House coordinates the network of hospitality shelters throughout El Paso.
I came to volunteer in one of the shelters with the little time I have right now, and I wish I could stay so much longer. The beautiful people I am meeting are Christ among us: hungry, thirsty, sick, desperately in need of clothing, shelter, and welcome (Matt 25:31-46). Below, I offer you a snapshot of one beautiful and heartbreaking encounter. There is much more to tell, but for now, a glimpse into the current border reality:
The midday El Paso sun sears into my forehead. I shield my eyes and look up at Pedro, sitting on a cement block next to me. His 8-year-old son, Juanito, and a few friends kick around a deflated basketball in the gravel lot, the first time they’ve played freely since they left Honduras one month ago.
Pedro’s eyes are tired as he tells me about their journey. For three weeks, he was on the road with his son and other migrants they met along the way. For three weeks, they slept and ate only intermittently. When Juanito cried, Pedro held him tight and reminded him that he would get to see his mom in the United States.
Once they finally arrived to the U.S-Mexico border, Pedro and Juanito spent four days in detention.
“When we first got there, they lined us up in the hallway, and we stood for four hours until they could take our information. Then, they gave us each an aluminum blanket and shuffled us into a small room with other dads and kids, with barely enough space for us to crawl up on the floor to sleep. It was freezing – the air conditioner blasted day and night. There was one toilet in our room. Twice a day, they brought a bean burrito, still quite frozen, for each of us, and a small juice for the kids. We couldn’t go outside, except one day they took us to a bigger detention center to finish processing us, and they let us take a shower.”
It was the first chance they’d had to bathe in weeks. That evening, immigration agents crammed forty fathers and children into an even smaller room and told them they could sleep standing since it would be their last night in detention. The dads worked together to get their children accommodated on the floor, and then they did what they could to rest. Some sat on the small floor of the bathroom; others just stood and leaned against the wall all night.
Yesterday, they were brought in a bus with fifty-eight other Central American migrants to this center, one of several run by Annunciation House and staffed by volunteers. Here, they are given good meals, clothes, toiletries, showers, cots, pillows, blankets, and a warm welcome that honors their God-given dignity, before they continue their journeys to relatives and friends elsewhere in the United States.
“It’s been difficult,” he says quietly. “I can deal with it. I’m an adult, you know? But my little guy…” He trails off as he beholds his only son with misty eyes. “I brought him because I want him to grow up safe, and I want to be able to feed him every day. I never dreamed it would come to this.”
I’m in awe at his resilience and simultaneously overcome with sorrow. “You’re an amazing father. You know that? You’re so brave.”
“I hope so,” he sighs. “Everything I do, I do for my beautiful boy.”
The duo will board a bus later tonight for the final leg (for now) of their exodus. Tomorrow, they’ll arrive to the city where Juanito’s mom lives. She will be able to embrace her son for the first time in five years. Pedro and Juanito will report to court in early December to begin asylum proceedings – which rarely end favorably. But this is no time to be hopeless.
“It’s an honor to meet you, Pedro,” I tell him, and it's true. My heart is bursting with admiration. I feel like I'm in the presence of a saint. “I don’t know how you do it. You have been through so much, and you’re still going strong.”
“Gracias a Dios,” he asserts, gesturing to the sky, strength in his cheekbones. “Everything is all thanks to God. We’re alive. We made it. I can never stop thanking my God.”
**Please support Annunciation House
and our beloved migrant sisters and brothers
by donating HERE.**