Ministry to Migrant Teens

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The Redemptorists are ministering to an estimated 2,000 teenage boys who crossed the Mexican border unaccompanied by adults and have been relocated to the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio. The Department of Health and Human Services is overseeing the humanitarian relief effort with assistance from Catholic Charities. The teens, aged 13-17, are expected to remain at the Freeman Coliseum through the end of May. Efforts to connect them with relatives living in this country are underway.

“Sadly, many young people are arriving here, only to find themselves being separated from their siblings with no idea where they, or their sisters and brothers, are being sent,” explained Fr. Mike Houston of the Baltimore Province, who is serving at St. Gerard Parish. He and other confreres from the parish and theology house have been visiting the teens, aged 13-17, who are expected to remain in San Antonio through the end of May.

According to Fr. Mike, about 20 per cent of the teens have tested positive for COVID-19 and are housed in a separate facility. The teens are tested on a daily basis; staff and volunteers are tested every three days.

“Catholic Charities has been instrumental in the relief effort. Their dedication and compassion for the migrants cannot be overstated,” Fr. Mike said.

Upon arrival, the teens are given adequate clothing and an ID badge. They have access to three meals a day, plus a snack. Hundreds – possibly thousands – of army cots are neatly arranged for the boys to sleep on, each with a pillow and blankets. Groups of about 50 teens are assigned to stay in specific areas called “pods” that are overseen by HHS personnel. Teens are not allowed to roam about freely outside of their designated area.

“It’s amazing what a few old-time games, a deck of cards and a soccer ball can do to help the kids enjoy themselves. I find these kids to be truly amazing! I’ve spoken with hundreds of them, and not once have I come across any of them who I would consider potentially problematic. They are all polite and respectful. And they are always very grateful for the help they are receiving. Many are prayerful and are deeply pious. Kids frequently ask me, ‘Hey Padre, will they be having Mass for us?’ And they absolutely love Our Lady of Guadalupe,” he said.

Volunteers have donated several Our Lady of Guadalupe statues and thousands of prayer cards. “Antonio, one of the directors for Catholic Charities, told me that he was amazed to see a large group of boys kneeling quietly on the concrete floor and praying in front of Our Lady. It brought him to tears,” Fr. Mike said. “As I listened to him, I saw several boys huddled around the table with the statue, picking up rosaries, Bibles, and other religious articles that were left for them. When I noticed the extent of their faith, I remarked, ‘There is the future of the Church!’ And that gives me hope for our future. These kids have such a deep love for God and Our Lady. They’ve lost everything, but they still haven’t given up on God. I find that truly amazing and inspiring.”

Fr. Mike expects the recent surge of migrants to affect the demographics of the nation; cities and parishes may see an explosion of Hispanics, many of whom are marginalized.

“This will create a huge need for Spanish-speaking priests and religious. I hope and pray that will be discussed at length during the upcoming GeneralChapter. This great need will present our Congregation with a wonderful opportunity for ministry in the true spirit of our Redemptoristcharism. It could also be a truly historical moment for our Congregation,” he said. “Many people are fearful of these people who are coming in droves from Central and South America. It’s important for us to remember that these people are not coming here because they have nothing better to do. They are here because they are desperate and are hoping to find a better and safer life for themselves and for their children. They give me a great deal of hope for the future of the Church in our country. Are we ready and willing to respond to this crisis? And, if so, to what lengths are we willing to go for these people?”

Adapted from an article published in The Baltimore Beacon.

courtesy: Denverlink, update April 23, 2021.

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