By Sister Theresa Saetta
As Sister Pat Mulderick and I woke up to a bright and shiny day, we learned that the tent city camp in Reynosa, Mexico, that housed over 2,000 immigrants awaiting asylum in the USA was bulldozed. The families had to scramble to collect their important documents while the authorities screamed at them to get out…now!
In the previous weeks, rumors had spread that they would be forced to leave at some point. The plaza belonged to the people of Reynosa who wanted it back. The camp was squalid with a lack of water, showers, and every other basic need we take for granted. It was also dangerous with drug cartels running their businesses there. But the residents saw it as a place of community in the midst of a very traumatic journey. They formed friendships over the many months, lived closely together, tent tethered to tent, with people from all over the world, forming friendships in the process.
Innate leadership emerged. Organizers formed community kitchens. A liturgy team assembled lectors and a choir to lead Mass twice a week. Security teams kept watch during the night to keep their vulnerable women and children safe enough to sleep.
People of goodwill, pastors, priests, sisters, doctors and nurses made the journey to help. A local pastor and her husband formed a “sidewalk school” for the children in the camp. Two young Jesuits celebrated Holy Thursday and Easter Vigil.
We participated in Bible study and Mass. We also bought many items for the children, including coloring pages, crayons, colored pencils, puzzles and games.
A day after the tent city was bulldozed, we went to see its remains. Nothing was left of the people who had become our extended family and whose joys we celebrated and whose trauma we carried.
The online news carried a few stories. One made us cry…a reporter who was there in the aftermath said that nothing remained except a copybook with a child’s drawing of Spiderman…and we recognized it as belonging to one of our Thursday “artists”!
Father Louis Hotop, SJ, took us to a place where some of the immigrants were taken. When we arrived, people who were part of our little community came up to us to share tears and hugs. They kept saying, “We thought we’d never see you again, that you’d forget about us, and not know where we were.”
They told us of the night they were removed from the tent camp. They were given no time to gather their things. Children were frightened and screaming. People were crying as they walked to the Senda De Vida (Path of Life) Immigration Center where they now wait until judges can hear their cases.
Now our friends are housed in a former Bible camp and soccer field surrounded by cement walls. Pregnant women are allowed to sleep under a roof while most others use sleeping mats on the cement outside. Slowly, this current camp is starting to feel like the community that was razed.
As we were leaving, one of our littlest friends hugged my legs. When I turned around, I saw a little angel with a beautiful smile. A little boy approached her and said, “Come on over here. There’s a little girl who needs a friend.” So they both went over to her. The two little girls held hands and sat close together, providing each other with comfort in the midst of a lost childhood.
Words can’t describe the trauma we see and hear, nor can it describe the absolute joy on the faces of our friends when we reconnected. It was the joy of the Good Shepherd, one who knows his sheep and will not abandon them. The sheep know and listen for his voice. They experience joy in this mutual encounter!