In October 2019, the Sisters of the Holy Cross affirmed a corporate stand on migration, which emphasizes the right of all persons, particularly migrants, to authentic human development including the right to life and safety. The sisters are committed, through their ministries, to advancing the human rights of immigrants as our sisters and brothers in Christ around the world. This month we take a closer look at Casanicolas House for Migrants in Guadalupe, Nuevo León, Mexico, where Sister Esperanza Jacobo Acevedo, CSC, ministers. Migrants find support at Casanicolas on their journey to seek peace and a life of dignity.
Guadalupe is a city in northern Mexico with a population of 700,000 and many areas of extreme poverty. It is a common stop for migrants fleeing violence and oppression from Honduras and other parts of central America. These migrants are often in the midst of traveling hundreds of miles or more without guaranteed shelter or food along the journey. It is here, in this city about 150 miles (240 km) south of the U.S. border, that Casanicolas ministers.
One migrant, Martha, left her country because of its extreme poverty and a lack of opportunities for her daughters. Upon entering southern Mexico, they stayed at a migrant house. Unfortunately, one of her four daughters was kidnapped by a drug cartel. Migrants face a constant risk of being taken advantage of by drug cartels and other predators such as human traffickers. Martha is grateful to God because her daughter was found safe but expresses frustration at the lack of support she feels from others.
I feel nobody cares for us
“People do not understand why we are leaving our countries. I feel nobody cares about us, not even our own governments,” she said.
Martha feels that only God is on their side. She believes he will lead them through the right path like he did with Mary and Joseph when they fled to Egypt. Martha is grateful for ministries like Casanicolas, which provide not only safe shelter but an opportunity to share and pray with others.
Casanicolas has the capacity to house up to 95 people who are migrating, but sometimes has welcomed as many as 300 people in extreme circumstances. Many days the demand exceeds the space available, with more than 150 people per day seeking support.
Casanicolas welcomes people in the evenings from 5 to 9 p.m. for a stay that lasts until 7 a.m. They offer sleeping accommodations and food. Only women and children stay in the house during the day.
In 2018, more than 3,000 immigrants had their lives touched by Casanicolas. The ministry does not receive any government funding and its existence relies solely on donations and the local parish for support. It is housed in a two-story building with separate bedrooms for men and women. Small children stay with their mothers and adolescent males stay with the men. A kitchen is available for food preparation. Offices provide workspace for volunteers and medical, law and psychology students who offer support to guests. A chapel is also on-site to support the spiritual and religious needs of guests. Typically, guests will stay three days, but in special circumstances, the stay can be extended anywhere from two weeks to a month. Holy Cross associates also assist Sister Esperanza and provide food monthly to guests.
With a listening heart
Father Luis Eduardo Villareal Rios, the founder of Casanicolas, began the ministry out of his deep concern for the poor. In the last 10 years his work in social justice has focused especially on the needs of the poor. Sister Esperanza noted that the ministry works hard to eradicate poverty through the provision of food supplies, “helping to nourish [the migrants] as they continue their journey.”
Pastoral care is an important part of ministering to migrants amidst their pain. Sister Esperanza helps provide a safe space for migrants to share their struggles with others experiencing similar trauma.
“In order to build communities of justice and love, a person needs to be able to express his/her ideas, fears and opinions, and needs to be heard without judgment—with a listening heart,” she said.
She added that most migrants feel vulnerable and lead a dehumanizing existence because of the treatment they receive from individuals and society as a whole.
They are so afraid to go out
Patricia is a migrant from Honduras who has suffered greatly. Her brother was kidnapped by a drug cartel, and her family was forced to come up with ransom money so the cartel would release him. She and her family reside regularly at local migrant shelters including Casanicolas.
“They are so afraid to go out. They don’t trust anybody and do not know what to do, because they don’t have anything to go back to in Honduras,” said Sister Esperanza.
Reflecting on Patricia’s difficult life, Sister Esperanza said, “Patricia feels trapped, but despite all the hard experiences she has been through, she recognizes God’s presence and providence in all the people of goodwill that have helped her family in different ways. She believes that God has the last word in everything and holds onto her faith to continue facing the situation.”
A Ministry of Hope
Casanicolas is truly a ministry of hope. Pope Francis in his Christmas Day 2019 Urbi et Orbi message to the Universal Church spoke of the injustices faced by migrants.
“It is injustice that turns them away from places where they might have hope for a dignified life, but instead find themselves before walls of indifference,” said Pope Francis.
Casanicolas is an exception, a place where indifference doesn’t reign. Rather, the God-given dignity of every person coming through its doors is proclaimed.
The pope went on in his Christmas message to offer hope that the newborn Christ would “through our friendship, such as it is…draw close to the elderly and the lonely, to migrants and the marginalized. On this joyful Christmas Day, may he bring his tenderness to all and brighten the darkness of this world.”
This hope, derived from God’s love of all humanity, is given for the thousands of vulnerable individuals who come through Casanicolas’ door each year on their journey for a better life for themselves and those they love. The hands of many, including Sister Esperanza and Holy Cross associates, ensure that hope is alive and well each day at Casanicolas.
Donors to the Ministry With the Poor fund this year helped Casanicolas by providing resources to assist Sister Esperanza. These much-needed resources include food to help nourish individuals lacking access to regular meals, as well as paper, pens, CDs and other support items to bring the sharing groups to life.
“I give thanks to all those who have helped make my support groups thrive this year. Through group sharing of traumatic experiences, much healing has occurred,” said Sister Esperanza.
We invite you to support our Ministry With the Poor Fund or Mexico Mission with a donation.