Serving Those Fleeing Poverty and Violence
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me…” Matthew 25:35-36. In Guatemala, Salesian missionaries are living these words every day. All along the Guatemalan-Mexican border, thousands of migrants—many of them from Honduras fleeing poverty and violence at home—have arrived on foot, seeking safety and new opportunity.
Blocked from legal passage, however, they languish in limbo without adequate food, shelter, clothing or social support. In San Benito Petén, Salesian missionaries are assisting a local agency overwhelmed by the demand for its services.
“Their shelter capacity is about 50,” says Father Giampiero de Nardi, “and they are trying to cope with the arrival of hundreds of migrants. It’s an extraordinary influx.” In response, Fr. Giampiero and his fellow missionaries are doing everything possible to provide beds, meals and other necessities for as many people as they can.
“In a country that itself struggles with almost incomprehensible levels of underdevelopment, simple acts of humanity like these are priceless gifts,” says Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions, who notes that more than 70 percent of Guatemala’s population lives below the poverty line.
Fr. Giampiero’s work, while exhausting, is familiar. In 2011, together with two other missionaries, he launched the Salesians’ presence in San Benito Petén in order to serve the area’s impoverished youth and their families. For many, the assistance they receive from the mission is literally lifesaving. At the Zatti Clinic, for instance, residents who struggle to live on less than one dollar per day can access free, or nearly free, healthcare and medicine for ailments they might otherwise die from. Missionaries regularly distribute free water purification filters to reduce the risk of illness. And recently, with the support of good people, like you, missionaries were able to build simple homes for families who previously lived under tarps—and more are planned. “To think that children live in these conditions horrifies me,” he says.
What Fr. Giampiero and his fellow missionaries are doing on behalf of migrants is a natural extension of the compassion that drives their work. Msgr. Jaime Calderón Calderón, Bishop of Tapachula, Mexico near the Guatemalan border, sums it up well: “All those who are part of this diocesan family, each according to his or her possibilities and responsibilities, ensure[s] that these migrant[s] … do not lack a piece of bread … God will reward [these] efforts to see them, hear them, and treat them like brothers.”
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