I’ve been living here in Ciudad Juarez in the Parish of Corpus Christi in the Northern part of Mexico, Rancho Anapra, for almost eighteen months now. A few miles away one can see the border wall between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas. It is indeed a real privilege to be here as a Columban lay missionary with Fr. Bill Morton, a Columban priest, and my fellow lay missionary, Sai Tamatawale. Little did I imagine that I would be involved with migrants once again after my six years in England working with refugees and asylum seekers. It is indeed a humbling experience to be here in the parish. Part of my routine each morning is to open the main gate of the parish and welcome the people who come to pray and join in the parish activities.
On one of those days, I noticed a woman who comes to the parish every day. I approached her and introduced myself and learned that her name was Maria Oliva. From that day on I welcome her at the gate every day, and we spend time getting to know each other. Maria is an active parishioner who also volunteers at the Casa de Migrantes (Migrant Center), a place of refuge for those migrants who were deported from the U.S. Some were caught crossing the border while others are still waiting for their numbers and appointment with the judge in order to cross legally into the U.S.
Thirteen years ago, Maria was one of many migrants who crossed into the US illegally but, luckily for her, she was not caught by the authorities. At that time, she was pregnant and reluctant to leave her parents and siblings behind, but she wanted to be with her husband, also a Mexican but who was already in the U.S. waiting for her. Her first year in the U.S. had been difficult – learning a new language, adapting to a new culture as well as adjusting to family life.
As the years passed by, Maria was able to adjust in her new life in the U.S. and gave birth to three more beautiful children. She was enjoying a happy life, but unfortunately, Maria was still illegal in the U.S. She didn’t have the time or the confidence to process her legal status. Finally, a year ago, she decided to legalize her status. Unfortunately, her lawyer messed up her documents, and she had to return to Mexico where her application was to be processed. Sadly, her application to return to the U.S. was subsequently denied.
Against her will, she left behind her husband and four children, as well as her job. It was an ordeal for her to suffer and sacrifice being away from her loved ones. She still continues to await approval of her application but the waiting and processing takes a long time. For now, she is renting a room in Rancho Anapra, a short distance from where I live and she finds refuge and solace in the church attending daily mass and participating in church activities.
It’s a blessing to journey with these people who find refuge in the parish. I’m glad to be able to meet people like Maria who continue to find refuge in God despite the agonizing pain and suffering of being away from her family, and the uncertainty of her visa application. Having this opportunity of journeying with her helped me realize and appreciate the importance of trusting God and finding refuge in God’s presence through His people.