I was a Stranger

Esperanza J. Acevedo CSC

Sr Esperanza is a Holy Cross sister who works for migrants in Monterrey, Mexico. She recently participated in the VIVAT Mexico Workshop from 13-15 June 2023, where she got the opportunity to tell stories with the participants in dealing with her congregation’s engagement with migrants. In this article, she generously shares some of the recent and touching stories of efforts her Congregation has been making through her ministry to address the intricate challenges migrants arriving in Mexico from across the countries face in a ‘’strange land’’.

Maria (real name withheld to protect identity) is a middle-aged woman from Honduras who travels to Mexico accompanied by her two children, hoping to reach the United States. Her motivation for going to the United States is to give her children a better future so that they may not suffer as she did. She says that since her childhood, her father has abused her sexually constantly, and her mother did nothing to protect her. So, when she was 14, a 40-year-old man tried kidnapping her because he wanted her as his wife. Her parents obstructed that move because they did not want her to get married.

The man kidnapped her a second time, and she did not resist because she wanted to run away from home and from her father’s abuse. Maria could not understand how a father could feel sexual attraction towards his daughter and hurt his child like that. For her, and rightly so, parents are supposed to care for and protect their children, and if a child cannot trust his or her parents, then who else would he or she trust? She said she hated her father and wished him dead. Maria said that she suffered much more from the man who took her as wife because he beat and raped her at will. She was enslaved as he did not let her go anywhere except with him.

When she got pregnant and had her baby, she realized that she could not continue living like that. She decided to run away. Years later, she fell in love with another person who became as abusive as her former. When he found out she was pregnant, he abandoned her, but this time, he stole all her savings.

Since that incident, Maria has worked in every job she could in order to survive. She has moved from place to place, hiding because the father of her second child has been out looking for her to take advantage of her again. She looks visibly afraid and insecure because that man works with drug cartels, and justice for her is far-fetched. That is why she decided to leave Honduras to protect her traumatized self and her children. She acknowledges she is still a broken woman with plenty of hatred in her heart from so much pain and injustices in her life. But she also knows that she loves her children and believes that God will not abandon her but will give her the strength to move on and be a person of good heart.

Alberto (pseudonym), another migrant, is a 32-year-old man from El Salvador. He shared his story with us on why he decided to leave his country three months ago. Alberto narrated that in El Salvador, he lived alone and had a small business. His parents and siblings lived close by where he lived. He loved to participate in his parish activities. But one day, while he was at home, someone broke into the house to steal. When the thief realized that Alberto was there, he hit him with a stone and cut a deep wound on his neck and at different spots, leaving him seriously injured and lying in a pool of blood in his house.

When he miraculously woke up, he found himself in a hospital, having been in a coma for several days. Luckily, he did not suffer memory loss and could remember everything. He could recall that the person who broke into his home to steal was his best friend. When he left the hospital, he was surprised that those who managed to catch a glimpse of him believed he was a ghost, including family members. One of his sisters had earlier organized his funeral service and prayers in the church, with his family members participating.

When Alberto queried his sister on the rationale for doing that, she told him that it was to protect him from being attacked again by his best friend. Alberto was so confused and afraid, too. So, he decided to escape El Salvador and head toward the United States to seek medical help. Looking at him, one could see that his head was seriously injured and needed urgent medical attention. He dreams of writing his story one day and publishing it as a book. He is eternally grateful to God for sustaining his life and for not abandoning him. More so, for blessing him with new friends he made during his journey.

These two stories illustrate the typical mental and material state we meet the migrants in our mission in Monterrey. Our first approach is to welcome them with smiling and reassuring faces, knowing that most of them are broken and lack even the basic trust of fellow human beings. But with little time and tailored pastoral accompaniment, we are able to gain their trust and assist them on a case-by-case basis. Part of the support we offer to them is assisting them in filling out their paperwork for securing refuge or asylum visas in Mexico. We do this discreetly to protect their identity but always in line with the legal requirements of the law of the land.

This report is designed to demonstrate and assure that every effort is made within our capacity to accompany these brothers and sisters on pilgrimage to a strange land. We recognize the face of Jesus in all of them and welcome them with open arms. However, we would want for their sake to retain the discretion required for engaging in this delicate ministry by sharing only the much that our diligent consideration for security and safety would permit.

Esperanza J. Acevedo CSC