A Compassionate Heart
Casa del Migrante (Migrant House) is one of the shelters in ciudad Juárez, Mexico, under the management of the diocese. Migrants usually only stay for a short time, and most of the residents are from central America, specifically Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and the different states of Mexico.
In October 2019, the Columban Sisters arrived at Casa del Migrante as volunteers for a year. I also got involved with them, visiting once a week. I asked one the Sisters, Sr. Virginia Mozo, if I could observe her afternoon class with children and young people. We both agreed to divide the group into two, with Sr. Virginia looking after the children while I looked after the young people. Being with the young people once a week, we organized various activities including indoor games, playing flash cards, counting numbers through games, and basic English classes. Attendance was erratic, due to their unstable situation, people would come and go, either returning to their homeland or crossing the border. But one of the migrants was consistently attending the class for three months.
I’d like to share more about this migrant. Her name is Geronima (not her real name). She is 22 years old and from Mexico. She wanted to cross the border with some members of her family because violence in her home area had forced them to leave, and they hoped to cross to the United states for a brighter future. She was a very attentive and enthusiastic student.
She wanted to learn many things and even helped in the kitchen for either the morning or afternoon shift. She has a great deal of promise.
One day during our class, Geronima inquired if I’m crossing to El Paso, Texas. I told her that I cross the border regularly for important matters like meetings or for a break. Geronima asked if she could come with me in the car, and hide in my trunk. Feeling so helpless and vulnerable like Geronima, I told her that I couldn’t agree to her request as it would invite trouble from the authorities. There is always tight security with the border patrol checking for documents before crossing the border to the U.S. After a few weeks, Geronima had to leave the Casa del Migrante with her single parent sister and three nephews to stay near the bridge to secure their number for the immigration appointment. The last time I saw her was near Zaragoza International Bridge, bordering Mexico and Texas. She still needs more documents to cross the border.
As a missionary at the border this has always been one of my struggles – seeing and meeting undocumented migrants being deported or trying to cross the border, feeling helpless that I can’t do more to assist them. Accompanying Geronima made me reflect that life can often be so sad and sorrowful. In times of challenges and struggles, one is so vulnerable, thinking of other possibilities without looking at the consequences.
Many times I encounter migrants in hopeless situations. Every day I keep asking myself how I can help more? Or maybe it’s not always the issue of helping people crossing the other fence, it’s looking beyond, with a heart that is compassionate. It could be an invitation to recognize that people like Geronima don’t always need advice. Sometimes all they need is a hand to hold, an ear to listen, and a heart to understand them.
Columban lay missionary Rosalia Basada lives and works in Mexico.