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Learning From the Suffering and Grit of Migrants on Their Journey

by Angel Valdez

Betsy was a CatholicWorker at Casa Juan Diego for several years. She is now working as a health educator in public health at Baylor College of Medicine.

I want to speak on behalf of migrants, and three lessons l learned. They showed me the power of human dignity, the audacity of hope and the journey in the search for peace.

I have been volunteering as a Catholic Worker at Casa Juan Diego for four years. My motivation is to serve vulnerable immigrant and refugee populations in Houston who are often mistreated, exploited and discriminated against because of their status. I listened attentively to the devastating stories of many migrants from Africa, Cuba, Central and South America. Their difficult path to our door shows us their scars of indescribable pain and suffering. Immigrants and refugees risk their lives in difficult and unimaginably dangerous journeys. They flee their homelands from extreme violence, poverty, and life-threatening persecution to save their lives and maintain their human dignity. Many times, migrants leave their families and all their belongings behind to save their children’s lives because their countries have become extremely dangerous and unlivable. This same pattern reminds me of the “Flight into Egypt” story in the Gospel of Matthew.  After the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary flee Bethlehem to go to Egypt because King Herod was planning to “seek out the child to destroy him.” They are being persecuted by the iron fist and tyranny of King Herod that orders the slaughter of all the male children in Bethlehem under two years of age. Mary and Joseph are terrified that their child is in mortal danger and make the painful decision to leave their homeland and flee to Egypt to seek safety as refugees for their newborn son, Jesus.2

Last year, I had the honor to meet Fr. Alejandro Solalinde. He is a human rights champion and the director of Hermanos en el Camino, a shelter that has provided immigrants and refugees humanitarian aid (food, shelter, medical, psychological, and legal help) and education since 2007.3He shared with us that the message of Matthew 25:35-36 guides his work protecting migrants. “For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me in, I needed clothes, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you looked after me, I was in prison, and you came to visit me.”4Father Solalinde founded Hermanos en el Camino in southern Mexico in the state of Oaxaca in the town of Ixtepec, one of the poorest regions in Mexico. Most of the immigrants arrive there by riding atop freight trains coming from the neighboring state of Chiapas. During their trip, many people are assaulted, robbed, kidnapped and raped. They also face extortion by the Municipal, State, and Federal Police, as well as the National Institute of Immigration.  Ixtepec’s location in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and is of strategic and geopolitical importance. It is the most desirable location chosen by gangs as the center of their operations for extracting enormous amounts of money from migrants, by any means possible. Father Solalinde explained to us the difficulty of his mission, “The greatest challenge that I must overcome is the intimidation, the harassment, and the constant lack of respect from people who do not want my work helping migrants to succeed. Many local authorities, gangs, and drug traffickers would love to free themselves from the defenders of human rights.”

Fr. Alejandro Solalinde
Drawing by Angel Valdez

The work of protecting people’s human rights is difficult. Father Solalinde has faced intimidation and death threats.  In one incident, a group of people led by municipal officials, including the mayor and municipal police, broke into his shelter threatening to set the building on fire if it was not shut down immediately. Even in the face of these threats, Father Solalinde is a relentless guardian of human dignity and a courageous defender of human rights for the most persecuted and vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.3

Also following the guiding principle from the Gospel of Matthew, Pope Francis reminds us that hospitality offered to a weary traveler was offered to Jesus Christ himself. The pope has made it a central tenant of his papacy’s social agenda to defend immigrants and refugees around the world. As the Syrian War raged on, Pope Francis welcomed immigrant families and Syrian refugees stranded on the Greek island of Lesbos to the Vatican. Migrants and refugees are escaping the violence of their war-torn countries looking for safety and peace. The pope urged every Catholic Church, convent or monastery in Europe to open their doors to at least one refugee family. Migrants are willing to risk their lives on long and dangerous journeys. These families endure hardships and suffering. They encounter fences and walls built to keep them out and are in constant danger. The pope reminds us that in the majority of cases people are forced to flee by wars, natural disasters, and climate change, violence, extreme poverty, and certain death. Pope Francis begs people to maintain a spirit of compassion and to embrace all those migrants fleeing from inhumane living conditions, the horrors of war and the terror of persecution being forced to leave their homes, like Mary, Joseph, and Jesus seeking mercy and safety.5

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”Right now, we are experiencing an immigration crisis that is going to define our integrity as a nation and as people. We must protect the most vulnerable people that are coming to our door in their darkest hour asking for our help. Immigrants and refugees have a vital message for us if we care to listen. They show us the value of human dignity in each person, the power of daring to hope for a better future and the search for peace.








Houston Catholic Worker , January – March 2019, Vol. XXXIX, No. 1.