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Post #7 — One Day He Will Go To Heaven and God Will Punish Him

12/20/2018 12:00:00 AM



Father Pete is asking me a question, even though it doesn’t sound like one.

“Why do people end up in the desert?  Why take a child into danger?  It’s not for fun!”  His voice is rising now.  “Why did a pregnant Mary and Joseph run to Egypt?”

And he answers his own question.  “Because they were desperate, that’s why!  People who end up in the desert are desperate!  If anyone doesn’t know why people come here,” he concludes, “it’s because they’ve never felt desperation.”

After our hike in the desert, we visit the Kino migrant shelter.  Farther away from the border than the comedor, the shelter is in a nondescript Nogales neighborhood.  As we travel, I look out the window.  The interior of Nogales looks like a mix of an unremarkable village in Latin America and a poor neighborhood in a southern California town.  We bounce along Mexican roads in our taxis until we curl up a side street to the shelter’s entrance.   It houses women and children who personify desperation.

The shelter is called Casa Nazareth, described by Kino as a “safe space where women and children can bathe, eat, sleep, call their families and reflect on their experience.”  Hundreds of migrants have slept in this house. 

Sister Alicia, “Missionary Sister of the Eucharist,” beams as she opens the gate to let us inside.  We shoehorn ourselves into a circle of chairs as Sister Alicia speaks in quiet but insistent Spanish.

Unsurprisingly, but still powerfully, she speaks of her work as mission.  “It is a gift from God,” she tells us, “to accompany these people.”

The people who sit in front of us bear the scars of unspeakable horror.  Women who were raped by mafia members who were now trying to abduct the children.  Children so terrorized they could no longer brave the walk to school.  Women who had fled first a mudslide, then domestic violence.  Women who sold their appliances and furniture so they could afford to carry their children to a country that rejects them out of hand as invaders.

I ask the women what they want Americans to know about them.  One woman speaks clearly and forcefully.

“Tell them we are not bad people.  We just want to work.  We just want our children to be safe.”

One young woman, we discover, is there on her own.  Since June, Juanita* had been in the United States, where her family had sought asylum.  Juanita had since turned eighteen, and while ICE has vowed to no longer separate children from families, this apparently only applies to minor children.  Upon reaching her eighteenth birthday,  Lucinda was taken to a facility in Arizona.  The rest of her family ended up in Fresno.

Even compared to the horrors described by the others sitting in Casa Nazareth, the conditions Lucinda describes are horrifying.  Through sobs, Lucinda tells us about substandard food, migrants piled up like human cargo, and being denied clean water.

At times, the only source of water was a sink that, according to Lucinda, was contaminated with worms.

I ask the kids in the room if they have dreams.  What do they want to do when they’re adults?

The answers come fast and enthusiastically.  Lawyer. Doctor. Teacher. A young girl says she wants to be a singer.

We ask if she’d sing something for us.

Singing, here, is a hard thing to ask someone to do.  Later, my colleague Rabbi Michael Bernstein would remark to me that the moment reminded him of Psalm 137.  “Our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors, for amusement,” it reads. “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

The would-be singer demurs, but Salazar*, the boy who wants to be a lawyer, suddenly volunteers to provide us with song.  The song was unlike any I’d heard before.

Mama no llore, no llore.  “Mother, don't cry. Don't cry.”  Even without facility in Spanish, it becomes clear to me that Salazar’s song is autobiographical.

My colleagues translate for me. 

Salazar sings of a father who left and returned with another woman, trying to kill her and take the children.  He sings again and again to his mother, sitting across the circle from him, not to cry. 

“One day he will go to Heaven and God will punish him.”

In this shelter, who God will and won’t punish is an open question.  The Trump administration has been working feverishly to deny asylum claims to those fleeing drug violence and domestic violence.  Chances are the US judicial branch will deal with this issue before God does.

I ask the group, “What gives you hope?”

The answer we hear is not God, or faith, or even Sister Alicia.

“My kids.”

A beaming young girl, who has been drawing colorful pictures and handing me pieces of candy, has her own answer.


In a room of desperation, her smiling face, and tiny hands bearing sweets, provide welcome relief from torment.  At least for this moment.

Sun, May 29 2022 28 Iyyar 5782