Photos and text by Fr. Nicholas Harding, OMI
EDITOR’S NOTE: This new story from last Christmas is a bit late in being published, but the continuing humanitarian crisis on the border knows no season. Fr. Nicholas Harding, OMI, has provided a snapshot of the situation in Brownsville, and the Oblate’s effort to minister to the migrants that continue to pour over the border.
It was unusually cold here in the Rio Grande valley Dec 23, Christmas Eve and Christmas day. The city bus terminal is one block from the Cathedral. It closes at 10pm and refugees are “evicted”. So, we begin to hear the plea for shelter , even of one young woman from Venezuela over 8 months pregnant. We opened up the school gym, gave blankets…her water broke, rushed her to the hospital. She and her husband named the child “Emmanuel” since born on Christmas Day.
Beginning Dec 16 we had posadas every evening in our gym for the parishioners.
As the numbers of migrants continued to increase, there was an amazing outpouring of the Christmas spirit from our parishioners: food, water, blankets, soap, diapers, toys for the kids. We ended up giving real posada (=inn, refuge) in accordance with Matthew ch 25: 31 et seq.
The people we have coming are almost all classified as refugees because they are seeking asylum from communist governments in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua. Also, there are many fleeing the gangs in Haiti. But we have had a few from places like Russia, China, Peru, Ecuador. Few come to us who are undocumented.
So it was very “coincidental”, i.e. providential , that refugee families joined us for the Feast of the Holy Family, where we recall how Jesus, Mary and Joseph fled as refugees to Egypt. Many of the families, especially from Venezuela recount harrowing stories of their trek which takes several months. At the end of mass, some families tearfully shared about their escape from homelands.
There is some tension with local homeless people who feel “discriminated against” because of preference to the refugees. But we give food to anyone and have had some homeless overnight.
While Bishop Flores is most supportive, the City of Brownsville is mysteriously opposed to the charitable and humanitarian help offered by the Church to keep people from living on the streets. The City used strong arm, bully tactics (e.g. through the fire marshall) to try and shut down the assistance. One suspects that the mayor finds the shelter a political embarrassment after he “showcased his model” to President Biden at El Paso recently . Also, could it be the free help of the Church detracts from federal money the City would otherwise get per head from FEMA for people they process ? And less people paying for rooms in downtown hotels?
So, instead of the gym we have had to use tents in our back parking lot. But they are not ideal when it is cold and rainy (thankfully not much of either).