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The parish of San Fernando de Guadalupe has been served by the Divine Word Missionaries for 33 years. The parish is home to more than 90 Mayan communities, almost all of which are indigenous of the Chol ethnic group. For several years now the pastoral and humanitarian service of attention to the migrants who pass through Salto de Agua has been a concern. So far more than 40,000 migrants have passed through the parish and 200,000 meals have been distributed to them.

Chapel of Saint Martha, a place of refuge

In the first years the migrants were cared for in the Chapel of Santa Martha which is located in one of the Colonies of Salto de Agua, just where the train station is. Seeing however that the place was insufficient with the increasing number of migrants, the decision was taken together with the Bishop of the Diocese to look for a place and to build a House for migrants in order to give better attention to them.

The resources we have received from some SVD provinces and some other particular agencies and benefactors have been inspiring and encouraging. Pope Francis, with his donation, also supported this project in his visit to the Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas in February 2016.  The refuge that we offer to the undocumented is a space where they can rest, receive food, be treated with medical help and, if necessary, they are taken to the hospital. They also receive orientation and legal accompaniment.

The situation of the migrants

The migrants arrive mounted on the train or on foot; their situation is very difficult due to the numerous dangers they already suffered from their countries of origin as well as in the passage through Mexico. The transit of these migrant from Central America through Salto de Agua has increased in recent times.

Sometimes a just a few pass through; on other days between 50 and 100, or even more, pass by. The majority are men between the ages of 18 and 30, but for some time now many women have come with children, even unaccompanied children. The majority of them come from Honduras, but they also come from El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and other countries. Along the way they encounter all kinds of abuses and other mistreatments because of their status as illegal migrants.

The migrants leave their country because of lack of work, because of insecurity and violence, or fleeing death threats made by gangs. We insist to them that it is increasingly difficult to move to the United States. They say they know it, but despite everything, they feel the need and urgency to find a way out of their family and personal situation and to seek a more dignified life.

Casa Betania-Saint Martha Project

At present, in the Casa Betania-Santa Martha Project, there are five SVDs of five different nationalities and four Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary (FMM) of four nationalities. Bro. Joaquin Mnich, SVD, one of the members of the team says, “We see a part of our mission in Salto de Agua within the meaning of the General Chapter goal: ’Anchored in the Word of God to be with people who suffer.’”

--- Brother Joaquín Mnich, SVD

Published in the bulletin “Arnoldus Nota” – October 2019