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.
“So we have opened our own small shelter, Casa San Oscar Romero,” he says.
Casa San Oscar Romero houses some 30 homeless migrants at a time, about half of whom are children. Most often these are small family groups escaping violence or natural disaster in their homelands. When hurricanes hit countries like Nicaragua and Honduras, hundreds of people started on their way to the United States, some arriving at the Oscar Romero Shelter.
“Many lost everything because of the hurricane. Thank God we have the support of various groups and institutions that allow us to move forward,” says Fr. Carl.
When migrants reach the U.S.- Mexico border, seeking asylum in the United States, they are required to wait while going through the asylum process. They are searching for a safe place to live in Juárez, a city known for its violence.
“They are honest, hardworking people,” says Fr. Carl. “Although it is difficult to find jobs in Juárez, the migrants work at factories and as day laborers, sending the majority of their pay to their families in their homelands.”
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.