Real Live Posada at Immaculate Conception Cathedral

Photos and text by Fr. Nicholas Harding, OMI

EDITOR’S NOTE: This new story from last Christmas is a bit late in being published, but the continuing humanitarian crisis on the border knows no season. Fr. Nicholas Harding, OMI, has provided a snapshot of the situation in Brownsville, and the Oblate’s effort to minister to the migrants that continue to pour over the border.

Refugee children seated in a circle entertained by one of our parish volunteers

It was unusually cold  here in the Rio Grande valley Dec 23, Christmas Eve and Christmas day.  The city bus terminal is one block from the Cathedral. It closes at 10pm and refugees are “evicted”.  So, we begin to hear the plea for shelter , even of one young woman  from Venezuela over 8 months pregnant. We opened up the school gym, gave blankets…her water broke, rushed her to the hospital.  She and her husband named the child “Emmanuel” since born on Christmas Day.

Beginning Dec 16 we had posadas every evening in our gym for the parishioners.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pinata-1024x768.jpg
Posada girl in wheelchair hitting the piñata

As the numbers of  migrants continued to increase, there was an amazing outpouring of the Christmas spirit  from our parishioners: food, water, blankets, soap, diapers, toys for the kids. We ended up giving real posada (=inn, refuge) in accordance with Matthew ch 25: 31 et seq. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is gym-1024x936.jpg
Children playing in our gym with donated toys, note mattresses for sleeping stacked in background

The people we have coming are almost all classified as refugees because they are seeking asylum from  communist governments in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua. Also, there are many fleeing the gangs in Haiti.  But we have had a few from places like Russia, China, Peru, Ecuador.  Few come to us who are undocumented.

So it was very “coincidental”, i.e. providential , that refugee families joined us for the Feast of the Holy Family, where we recall how Jesus, Mary and Joseph fled as refugees to Egypt.  Many of the families, especially from Venezuela recount harrowing stories of their trek which takes several months.  At the end of mass, some families tearfully shared about their escape from homelands.

There is some tension with local homeless  people who feel “discriminated  against” because of preference to the refugees.  But we give food to anyone and have had some homeless overnight. 

School gym making accommodations
Volunteers serving food to migrants
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is line-up-1024x768.jpg
Refugees evicted from bus terminal lining up at 10pm to enter our school gym

While Bishop Flores is most supportive, the City of Brownsville is mysteriously opposed to the charitable and humanitarian help offered by the Church to keep people from living on the streets.  The City used strong arm, bully tactics (e.g. through the fire marshall) to try and shut down the assistance.  One suspects that the mayor finds the shelter a political embarrassment after he “showcased his model” to President Biden at El Paso recently . Also, could it be the free help of the Church detracts from federal money the City would otherwise get per head  from FEMA for people they process ?  And less people paying for rooms in downtown hotels?

So, instead of the gym we have had to use tents in our back parking lot.  But they are not ideal when it is cold and rainy (thankfully not much of either).

We have had to put up tents for migrants in our parking lot since the city will not permit them to sleep overnight indoors due to fire code
Tent city, less than one mile from us across the river in Matamoros
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is priests-1024x768.jpg
Annual posada for priests from Brownsville and Matamoros