“The reception of the Honduran migrants caravan is entirely in the hands of the Church. And it’s mostly poor people who are helping other poor people”, said Msgr. Guillermo Ortiz Mondragón, bishop of Cuautitlán, responsible of the Mexican Bishops’ Commission on Human Mobility in the framework of Social Pastoral Care. “We are alone. The government has turned its back, not even international and human rights organizations have intervened. It’s just us: the parishes, many lay volunteers workers. The world needs to know it! – Father César Augusto Cañaveral Pérez, coordinator of Human Mobility in the diocese of the border town of Tapachula, exclaimed over the phone -. But we’re not afraid. It’s a question of living out the Gospel.” Different tones, but the message is the same. A united Mexican Church takes action, challenged by the poor and called to bear witness to the Gospel here and now, to support her brothers and sisters in need of help, living a situation of extreme suffering. The arrival of the caravan of Honduran migrants is shattering Mexico and mobilizing ecclesial structures: dioceses, Human mobility and Caritas coordinators, and, most of all, priests, men and women religious, many lay people, simple people who give what they can.
Worrying health conditions. An estimated 6-7 thousand people have begun their march; four thousand are making their way through Guatemala (yesterday one more thousand people reached the Migrant Home in Guatemala City). Arrivals are expected also in El Salvador… The caravan that left from Honduras almost two weeks ago in an attempt to reach US territory has dramatically increased. The migrants have a long, gruelling journey ahead of them through Mexico. “It will take them a month-and-a-half, maybe two, before they reach the northern border – said Father Cañaveral -, the health conditions of these people are reason for concern. There are 2500 children, disabled women, many people have wounds on their feet, it’s a humanitarian emergency.”
The caravan proceeds at a slower pace compared to the first days. The migrants who left from Tapachula have reached Huixtla, and they continued their march to the nearby villages. Their next destination is Mapastepec; but they are still less than halfway from Chiapas, the first of many Mexican States they will cross through. “They rest every second day, they are forced to march on foot in 40-degree heat, and after two hours they find themselves under the pouring rain”, said the coordinator of Human Mobility in Tapachula.The priorities: to welcome and to protect. “Every parish is a migrant reception centre”, at local and national level alike. The engagement of the Mexican Church is extended throughout, as Msgr. Mondragón told SIR. The Bishops’ representative for Human Mobility mentioned the recent dialogue with the Federal Government:
“We keep the dialogue open, on the one side we want to see whether it’s possible to legally recognize these people, to regulate their condition”.There was talk of a 60-day humanitarian permit on arrival, or the recognition of their refugee status, that would enable migrants to return home and collect all the listed documents needed. But this is unlikely to happen given the current chaotic situation. The bishops told migration authorities to beware “the rejection or repression of migrants.” In fact, the bishop went on, “thanks God no worrying, violent clashes have broken out until now.”
But the attention of the Church, operatively coordinated by Father Arturo Montelongo, Executive Secretary of the Human Mobility Department, is centred on two actions: “To welcome” and “to protect.” Msgr. Mondragón explained: “Our efforts aim to the collection of foodstuffs and basic necessities – food, water, blankets, medicines, shoes, small backpacks – throughout the national territory. We prepared ‘departure kits.’ We naturally have tried to give further support to Migrant Homes and migrant reception centres, but right now we need for every parish to act as a main reception and collection centre. Not only the dioceses through which the caravan passes through are involved. For example, we are collecting food also in my diocese at Cuautitlán “.
There is also the accompaniment and “protection” stage. Parish priests, men and women religious, pastoral workers “are literally escorting the migrants along the roads of Chiapas.” “We are worried that the Government may not provide sufficient vigilance and security.” In fact, in their walk towards US territory the migrant caravans will cross into States with high rates of crime, violence and human exploitation. These priorities were reiterated yesterday during the national conference on Social pastoral care, and were reaffirmed in a release.
“It’s a sign of the times. God is calling us into question.” Msgr. Mondragón is already thinking of the moment when the migrants will be arriving at the longed-for border with the United States: it is unlikely that they will be welcomed by Trump with open arms.
“We shall see which routes will be covered. There are three main routes: one to east, through the State of Tamaulipas, a central one and a western one that passes through California. As relates to the moment of arrival, we rely on the continual cooperation among bishops of US and Mexican bordering dioceses. The bishops have been holding meetings for many years already, seeking the right channels to communicate with US members of Congress… It is a fruitful atmosphere of dialogue.” The bishop concluded with a reflection: “We need to see what is happening through the lenses of faith: this universal phenomenon is a sign of the times. God is calling us into question. And we must not forget that Jesus was a migrant since he was in his mother’s womb, and that he was born at a great distance from his home. To welcome migrants means to welcome Jesus. Moreover, migrant reception nationwide is a way to start living the global Pastoral Plan of our Church, putting collegiality and synodality into practice in her operational choices”.