Living Hope Newsletter – November 2021
The Oscar Romero Shelter
The city of Juárez, Mexico, at the border of El Paso, Texas, is a place of both hope and challenge. Refugees from across Mexico, as well as El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Cuba land in Juárez on their way to finding a better life. They come from deeply difficult situations, fleeing violence, assaults, extortion, and other hardships. Many have lost loved ones along the way. All have sacrificed greatly on their journeys.
Their hope is met in the faces, community, and programs of the Claretian Missionaries and other Catholic social programs in the Diocese of Ciudad Juárez. There they find warmth and welcome in much-needed shelters, a place to live, sleep, and receive help with next steps.
Sharing Hope in Juárez
Claretian Fr. Carl Quebedeux has worked in Juárez for the past four years. The parish he serves is fittingly named Parroquia Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza, or Our Lady of Hope, and is located near the fence on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Fr. Carl’s ministry has given him a front-row seat to immigration, both to the United States and within Mexico. “Juárez is a city of migrants,” he says. “As shelters have become saturated, the bishop is calling on Catholic churches and organizations to help.
Walking with One Another
In addition to sacramental offerings for the missions, he founded and leads the Intercultural and Interreligious Pastoral Committee in the diocese. The committee serves as an integral element in the Church’s bridge-building efforts. “We introduce cultural and spiritual ceremonies of the Indigenous in the Diocesan celebrations,” he says, as a meaningful way of walking together. Traditions such as drumming, which represents the physical heartbeat, and smudging are meaningfully shared. Smudging is the practice of burning medicinal plants to cleanse and connect the spirit with the Creator.
The Indigenous communities are well organized to support children, youth and their elders. Each reserve functions as a municipality, and each reserve has their own schools and medical clinics. “They also organize cultural week celebrations to promote and pass on the wisdom, knowledge and other skills to the younger generation,” says Fr. Reegan. “Respect for the elders is fundamental.” They pow-wow (public gatherings) regularly to recognize important cultural celebrations as well as days of remembrance, such as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day.
Significant basic necessities are met at the shelter: food, clothing and bedding, educational resources, counseling, medicine, and legal assistance—along with much-needed encouragement and community. Refugees subsist on rice and beans. The shelter is looking to be able to afford fresh eggs, milk, fruit, and vegetables for them.
During the pandemic, children were enrolled in virtual classes there. There are also catechists who teach them to receive their Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation.
The shelter followed a strict and highly successful health and security protocol throughout the pandemic to prevent contagion among migrants. The shelter structure itself is functional but needs improvements. There is only one bathroom for the shelter’s 30+ people: another needs to be built.
As the number of refugees grows at Casa San Oscar Romero, so too does the financial support needed to help them. Safe housing for the large number of migrants in Juárez remains a struggle, and many return to their country of origin, despite the dangers they face by going back.
“We have tried to follow Pope Francis’ call to accompany and protect migrants and help them integrate into our lives,” says Fr. Carl. “Our local parishioners have been remarkable in their response to receive and accompany migrants.”
Protection on the Journey
The Diocese of Ciudad Juárez also sponsors another shelter, Casa del Migrante, that supports migrants. This shelter was started in the 1980s. Five parishes in Juárez, including Our Lady of Hope, send volunteers to Casa del Migrante every week, helping with meal preparation and providing medical care and activities for the children.
In his extensive work with migrants, Fr. Carl has been inspired. “Migrants are very much noble, generous, faithful, and hardworking people seeking asylum,” he says.
“Despite fleeing traumatic situations, they are faith-filled, hopeful, and dedicated. They are young, children, infants, men, and women. They are families: a father with his son or daughter and widows with children.”
Many have relatives here in the United States: uncles, cousins, brothers, and sisters living and working here. This gives them hope of a better life for themselves and their families in a safer country.
“We at all times try to help and protect them, so that their stay here in our city is dignified,” says Fr. Carl.