Last week, I participated in a posada navideña, the re-enactment of Joseph and Mary seeking shelter before the birth of Jesus. The ceremony's history goes back at least 400 years in México and is celebrated in communities throughout Latinoamérica and the United States. It is a powerful recreation of a family seeking refuge. It is especially timely in these days of the global movement of refugees.
I write this in the spirit of the Posada and inspired by Associate Pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in El Paso, Fr. Rafael Garcia, SJ, who asked us last week to meditate on migrants seeking refuge as we walked through Barrio Duranguito.
The United Nations reports that there are 28,300 people forcibly removed from their homes daily, representing 65.5 million globally. There are over 23 million refugees, half of them women and children. At a time when the numbers are growing globally, there is an increasingly hostile environment towards refugees and migrants. In the midst of this, Pope Francis has called on us to "share the journey." He asks us to see the people rather than just the numbers and to listen to the stories.
A hundred years ago, as today, refugees cross our border seeking safety, seeking asylum. I invite you to read this story from 1919, written by reporter Harry Morgan who wrote for the El Paso Times about the refugees crossing the border during the Mexican Revolution and consider how much has changed and how much has, sadly, remained the same:
Genuine pathos marked the flight of the Mexicans. Half clad women, their hair loose, fear written on their faces, ambled across the bridge, holding scantily dressed, and crying babies to their breasts. Shawls and blankets trailed in the dirt. To them the night of terror was just another page in Mexico's lengthy chronicle of revolution. To flee from their homes, leaving behind everything they possessed of worldly goods which, meager as it might be, was their all, was only a repetition of former experiences. To leave their humble homes in the wake of war and at the mercy of their fellow countrymen was not a novel thing, but its repetition made it no less terrible. Little children old enough to walk but incapable of understanding tagged along at their mothers' skirts, their eyes tearful, yet full of innocent wonderment. They had been born in the throes of revolution, and to them life had been little more than a recurring series of bloodshed.
Mexican refugees crossing the border, 1914, Otis Aultman, courtesy of El Paso Public Library.