The Unheard Cry

On September 19, 2016, Fr. Flor Maria Rigoni, Director of the Scalabrini Shelter in Tapachula and Representative of the Scalabrini International Migration Network (SIMN) in Mexico, delivered the following intervention entitled “The Unheard Cry” at the Side Event, organized by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, Caritas Internationalis and the International Catholic Migration Commission,  on the “Role of Religious Organizations in Responding to Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants” in the United Nations Global Summit on Refugees and Migrants:  

I represent today the Scalabrini Casas del Migrante Network in Mexico and Central America and partly the Mexican church. Just a statistic: in the last 30 years from the foundation of the first Casa we have welcomed 700,005 migrants, deportees or asylum seekers. The Church in Mexico provide today 74 shelters from this people.

Yet I will present a holistic approach starting from a humanitarian, political and anthropological perspective.

Today I am here, neither as a man nor a missionary, nor even as a representative of a voiceless people:

Here I stand before you as a man who became a cry of despair and keeps betting on a new horizon, because the migrants have taught me to invent—day after day—the reasons of my song of hope.

For the past 18 years, I have ministered a shelter for asylum seekers in the southern borders of Mexico with Guatemala. At our doors we have our little Latin American Syria. Yes, the so called northern triangle (Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala) is disrupted by an undeclared civil war. The flow of migrants we attend every day do not belong to the economic category: they do not choose migration for a better lifestyle, for a better shot up the social ladder…  they escape and flee for survival. According to the testimony of a mother of 5 children, she who told me: Father, do not forget, that in our country, we bear our coffin day after day on our shoulders, because every moment and every place can be our cemetery without cross and flowers.

Indeed, Central America seems to be not as important as Syria and its environment.

In the world map it is insignificant, as it was during the civil wars of he ‘80s.

Who cares about it? Here I am, pierced by the grief of thousands of people, turned into a cry that would like to wake up the desert, to emerge from an ocean of violence and ask for help.

A former guerrilla told me one day, oppressed by a deep sadness: you remember father, how at the time of the civil war the front lines were clearly defined: army and guerrilla. Today we are surrounded by a cage without name, the death has no face, no warning, it catches you by surprise and sweeps you away.

It is not my task to enter into details, or to point the finger against possible perpetrators. My cry is not a political process or judgment, it is despair and hope at the same time that gives me the power to appeal for people of good will.

It deals with children, women, campesinos who flee for anywhere, who dream for a piece of land and a society, where dialogue and dignity—in short, a minimum ground of freedom, could give them back a prohibited smile.

People speak of failed States, of economic bankruptcy, of territorial disputes among the drugs cartels. Possibly everyone is correct. Certainly we face a people in disarray, confused and upset by a stampede that someone or something has unchained.

Maybe it is difficult for you to believe that: I was compelled to create a new term in Spanish: la orfandad de hermanos (the orphanage of brothers). Yes, this is the truth. When a girl or a boy reaches adolescence and are intercepted by the different streets gangs, they are given 12 to 72 hours to join them, otherwise they are killed, sometimes even beheaded. So, their younger brothers and sisters know that pretty soon they too will face this crossroad: to become a bandit or the amusement for a pack of wolves.

Let me conclude with a story that profoundly moved me.

It deals with a young mother from Honduras. She was a guest in our shelter, and one day she decided to head up to the United States. About two weeks later I got a call from her. She thanked me and share her story.

Father, when we arrived at Matamoros, we managed to find a coyote who helped us to cross the Rio Bravo. At soon as I touched the American shore, I spoke out my simple prayer: Oh God, I thank you, I fulfilled my dream.

At this point I heard an intimidating voice commanding me: raise up your hands and turn around slowly. It was a Border Patrol officer. He handcuffed me and ordered me to get into the vehicle with some others. Suddenly this woman began crying into the telephone and told me: Father, may the Lord and you forgive me for what I will tell you. I looked at the officer and said: Officer, do me one last favor: take out your gun and shoot me down here. For me there is no return. Let my children who remained with their grandmother say: at least our mother reached the States. The officer remained silent for a while and eventually told me: woman, I never saw you.  He unshackled me and I am calling you from Chicago.

That officer did not comply with the rules of the Border Patrol, but instead demonstrated the heart of the American Nation.

I ask the same here. Honor the spirit of the law even if it breaks the letter of the law: break the rule of selfishness and reach out your hand to this peripheral coin of Central America.

Fr. Flor Maria Rigoni