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The Guatemalan teenager gave the priest her name: Serenidad.
They met on Tuesday morning at a children’s hospital in San Antonio, where the priest, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, had arrived to comfort one of the youngest survivors of the deadliest migrant smuggling tragedy in modern American history.
“She smiled many times, a beautiful smile,” the archbishop recalled in an interview with the Texas Tribune. “I asked if she had called her family, but her mobile phone had been confiscated.”
The Archbishop urged the girl, whom he estimated to be around 16, to contact her family as soon as she could. “And then I said: if you can contribute, it would be great if you could smile as much as you can because then you can make everyone around you feel good. They will see that you are fine. .
García-Siller says he heard the news around 7 p.m. Monday: Dozens of people had been found dead or near death inside a burnt-out tractor-trailer that had stopped near the intersection of highways 35 and 410 on the south side. west of town. On Friday, the toll was 53 dead, 11 injured. Four men have been arrested and charged in the tragedy; of them face charges which could result in the death penalty.
The archbishop said he visited survivors at four hospitals on Monday night, including a Guatemalan woman he estimated to be around 19 years old. (She nodded when he asked and reacted strongly when he mentioned some towns in Guatemala.)
“She could only communicate through her eyes and with her fingers, and she tried to speak but I couldn’t understand her,” he recalled.
He visited two other hospitals early Tuesday, including the one where he met Serenidad. And on Friday morning, he met another survivor, a young man from Mexico. He noted that he had not asked for the legal names of the victims, nor would he; undocumented migrants often use pseudonyms or fake IDs.
“Most of the victims were unconscious and very seriously ill,” he said. “They were plugged into all sorts of things. But I was able to be in every room and be in their presence to pray and honor them. And think of their families.
Born in Mexico, García-Siller led an archdiocese which covers nearly 28,000 square miles and comprises about 800,000 faithful; it began as a Spanish mission in 1713. In just over a month, the clergy and lay staff of the Archdiocese grappled with two epic tragedies: the May 24 elementary school shooting Robb in Uvalde, which claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers, and now the tragedy of June 27, which claimed the lives of 40 men and 13 women, including citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and from Mexico.
“What I wish for people is to foster a culture of life because there are so many signs of a culture of death,” he told the Tribune. “What happened is an example of a culture of death. What happened in Uvalde is a sign of a culture of death.
The Uvalde shooter was an 18-year-old resident who tortured animals and threatened women, authorities said.
“We can say the man was sick, he was in crisis, but we are responsible,” the archbishop said. “We do not sow seeds of life, of respect for human beings, encouraging encounters and relationships. The drug situation, human trafficking – these are signs and expressions of a culture of death. How to promote a culture of life? It’s all of us. I feel responsible.
Thursday night, St. Fernando Cathedral – the oldest standing church building in Texas, founded in 1731 – held a memorial mass and an interfaith prayer vigil organized by the Archdiocese of San Antonio and the Interfaith Alliance of San Antonio. Jews, Muslims, Protestants, Catholics and Sikhs attended the interfaith service. In his homily, delivered in English and Spanish, the Archbishop spoke with compassion for those fleeing poverty and violence to come to the United States.
“You shall not oppress or afflict a foreign resident, for you were once foreigners residing in the land of Egypt,” he read in the book of Exodus. “If you ever wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely listen to their cry.”
He continued, “Not all sins have the same degree of intrinsic evil by which God is offended, nor are their consequences so severe. The exploitation of the poor, and in particular of migrants – who flee dire situations in search of opportunity and hope – is particularly serious.
In his homily, the archbishop condemned “dealers who consider lives as a commodity and ultimately as collateral damage”, but also society as a whole.
“No one in our society is allowed to sit idle and look the other way in the face of the humanitarian crisis caused by unregulated migration,” he said. “We all have a role to play in solidarity with people fleeing in search of development opportunities.”
While stopping well short of calling for the opening of borders, the Prelate stressed the need for international cooperation and regulation. At least 100 million people around the world have been displaced from their homes, and as the planet warms, another 500 million could join them in the coming decades.
“Immigration is a natural phenomenon that arises from the supply and demand for work and security,” the Archbishop said. “It’s like a stream. If you don’t give it a channel, it naturally finds it, but not in the right way. Migration is a natural human right. Likewise, the host country has the right and the duty to regulate it.
Although the United States has not enacted comprehensive reform of its immigration system since 1986, presidents and governors have made the southwest border a political battleground – and the Texas-Mexico border in particular. has become increasingly militarized under the government. Greg AbbottThe multi-billion dollar border security campaign, dubbed Operation Lone Star.
At the federal level, an emergency public health order known as Title 42, enacted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, allows immigration officials to quickly deport migrants without allowing them to apply for immigration. asylum, although the Biden administration has sought to have it lifted. On Thursday, the United States Supreme Court decreed that the administration can lift the Trump-era “stay in Mexico” policy that forces asylum seekers to wait south of the border while their cases wind their way through immigration courts. This policy also remains in place when the case returns to a lower court.
At the cathedral, the Archbishop asked the faithful to listen to the voices of migrants and to urge politicians to adopt comprehensive immigration reform.
“Politics – properly understood – is the opposite of ideological confrontation,” he said. “It is one of the highest forms of charity. It is a path that begins with loving our closest neighbor – so that we can love even those we do not know.
Join us on The Texas Tribune Festivaltaking place September 22-24 in downtown Austin, and hear more than 300 speakers shape the future of Texas, including Joe Straus, Jen Psaki, Joaquin Castro, Mayra Flores and many more. See all speakers announced to date and to buy tickets.