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Reflections on the April 2019 Central American migrant caravan

Strawberry Hill Overseas and Community Concern (SHOCC) was founded in 1971 at St Mary’s by members of staff and other local supporters to support charitable projects around the world. 

SHOCC received this moving account from Alumna and Maryknoll Sister Dee Smith (1972-1975). It reports on the current migration on its way to the US.

It has been difficult this Easter to reflect on something that happened to one young man over 2000 years ago. Why, you may ask? Because on the Monday of Holy Week, I found myself standing on the bridge over the River Suchiate linking Mexico and Guatemala handing out care packages and offering emotional support to over 1000 adults and children who had left behind all they had in Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Their Stations of the Cross wasn’t just a Good Friday event. It had started two weeks prior to Holy Week when their journey out of poverty, violence and desperation had begun.  

When the first caravan passed through Guatemala in October last year, there was an outpouring of love and generosity for the thousands travelling in the great march to the north. Television crews were stationed at strategic points, towns provided food, water and emergency medical stations, houses offered hospitality. Surely this was the triumphant entrance into Jerusalem; words of encouragement and free rides on more than just a donkey’s back.  

In April 2019 the scene was very different. The United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) asked me if our hospice could accompany the caravan. Why us, and how could we make any difference? Because the people at the border, except for the Casa Migrant, weren’t interested this time in helping anyone.  

The migrants slowly moved over the bridge and were settled in huge warehouses at Ciudad Hidalgo in Mexico. They received a floor to sleep on and a few meals a day. But they could move no further because they had no papers. They had to wait in line to have their requests processed. Every day the migrants crossed back over the bridge to look for help. 

UNFPA asked if we would store the contents of the personal hygiene kits, the free bottles of water and offer counselling and emotional help. The team stood with me in the blazing sun handing out the supplies, listening to stories and giving a gentle hug and smile to whoever needed one.  

We looked after 1080 people in those 3 days plus their small children and babies. The reality of what we had witnessed hit us after we had finished. Each of us held the images of the encounter in a different way. For some it was the single mothers travelling away from the violence, carefully caring their babies as they struggled to juggle the bags, flipflops and water they had received.  

One woman from Honduras told me she was travelling alone with her three children. Her husband had been shot dead by a gang member for not paying his extortion money. They came for the woman demanding their share of her income from the small shop she and her husband ran. She was tired, her face the expression of exhaustion and resignation. I thought to myself ‘Is that how Mary felt as they took her son away, led by soldiers to a certain death?’ 

This woman’s resurrection moment was somewhere far off. Maybe after she had crossed the border into the USA and been allowed to stay, she would have enjoyed her resurrection moment. Her hope lay in surviving her Way of the Cross, her Calvary and protecting her children.  

I don’t know if our presence had any impact on the people we served, but their presence had a life changing impact on me and the rest of the team.   

Sister Delia Smith (1972-1975) Santa Maria Hospice Guatemala 
April 2019