“Forty days in the desert” describes Jesus at the start of his ministry and the Christian community during Lent. For me, henceforth, it will also bring to mind migrants who make a dangerous journey through Mexico to the United States. I learned on a tour with the organization Witness for Peace that the trip for those who start in southern Mexico or Central America can take one to two months and often includes walking through treacherous stretches of desert.
The delegation I attended, based in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, included a visit to a Church-sponsored migrant shelter which offers food, medical care, and helpful information to those desperately trying to attain a better life for their families. Some of the most common needs they have include replacements for their worn-out shoes, and treatment for their legs, which are badly blistered and cut from walking many miles through sharp plants in the wilderness. Some die, and some disappear on the way.
They leave mostly for economic reasons. I believe their homelands are what Pope Francis had in mind when, in his recent apostolic exhortation, he described an economy of exclusion. “Masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape” (The Joy of the Gospel #53).
The people of Oaxaca whom we visited have felt excluded from decisions that affect them, including the negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement, now 20 years old. This resulted in more exclusion: a removal of agricultural support and even the loss of the Constitutional protection of their communally-owned land. The latter has enabled foreign companies to buy their land and has often led to exploitation of people and resources.
For many, the only option is migration. Our group had the opportunity to stay in a city where most families have at least one member who has migrated to the US. While migrants send remittances home, their absence leads to further problems for their communities, like an imbalance of men and women (most migrants are male) and the separation of family members.
The pope observed that economic exclusion is sustained by a “globalization of indifference,” where suffering of neighbors no longer moves us (The Joy of the Gospel, #54). Let us be awakened! The migration rate of Latinos northward is a sign that the scales of justice are out of balance. Let us in compassion reach out to them, and in solidarity seek to learn more about why they are here.
For information on joining a delegation to Mexico: http://witnessforpeace.org/section.php?id=108