Currents News Staff
For five Franciscan friars from Brooklyn, spending time at the U.S.-Mexico border was emotional.
“I was changed by this experience,” said Brother Joseph Bach.
They were there to help undocumented migrants in El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico.
For one week, the friars worked with men, women and children. One incident is fixed in Brother Gregory Cellini’s memory.
“I gave someone half an orange. You’d think I had given them the world,” said Cellini.
The brothers watched as asylum seekers arrived at a shelter in El Paso after being released by ICE. The migrants’ belongings were packed into plastic bags, and they were only able to sleep on cots on a warehouse floor.
“These are human beings. How can we take their valued dignity and worth away from them? When you hear their story, you can’t but be touched,” said Bach.
One story Bach recalls is a mother and her two young children fleeing Mexico for Oklahoma to escape death.
“The mother told the story that they had found bodies in the area and the cartels came for the 10-year-old boy. They wanted him to be a drug runner, so she got scared and packed the kids up because that’s not the life that she wanted for her kids,” he said.
What made their journey even more emotional was their first night at the border.
It was the day after the mass shooting in El Paso. The friars attended an interfaith prayer service.
Brother Geoffrey Clement said, “It was a somber and silent testimonial in many ways because the crowd was very sedate, sorrowful. No doubt there were people there who lost loved ones.”
But through a journey full of sorrow, Clement recalls a glimmer of faith at the El Paso shelter, watching asylum seekers point to a U.S. map, searching for their final destination.
“Their eyes lit up with hopefulness. ‘That’s where we’re going! That’s a new life,’” said Clement.