Members of the community mourn the loss of 40 migrants in Ciudad Juárez
On March 27, 2023, a fire occurred at an immigration detention center in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, which is across the US/MX border from El Paso, Texas. The fire killed 40 people and left 27 others seriously injured. The Missionary Society of St. Columban responded to this injustice by mourning the victims and condemning the Mexico and the United States’ unjust immigration system that created the conditions for this senseless violence to occur in the first place.
On the day after the fire, Columban priest Fr. Bill Morton recorded his thoughts on the fire, the violence committed against migrants, and every person's duty to ask how they are responsible for injustices like these. While these reflections were prompted by the fire, there are just as relevant today because migrants still face many injustices created by government policies.
What follows is a transcript of his recording. You can listen to the recording at the top of this page.
This is Father Bill Morton from the Columban Migrant Ministry in Juárez. I'm here in the [Our Lady of Guadalupe] Cathedral, where we’re feeding a group of migrants, about a hundred people at a time, and we just had our mass in the cathedral with the Bishop of Juárez and the Columban Migrant Ministry Team, and about a hundred migrants as well as some other supporters. And, as I reflected on this senseless loss of life, of 39 human beings [39 was the known number of victims at the time], migrants, vulnerable people exposed here in Juárez. I was just sitting and talking with a woman from El Salvador whose husband was killed in the fire. She has three children in El Salvador, she’s here alone, broken-hearted and sad, and I thought really what this senseless slaughter, this senseless taking of human life should provoke in us, is a willingness and an honesty [of] every person who knows about this and hears about this, whether you’re from Mexico or the United States to say to yourself, “how am I responsible?”
Every level of government in Mexico, from the federal government down to the local government, at its most mundane level from the police to the immigration authorities, all of the different institutions in Mexico and in the United States, the poor policies of the US, everybody needs to recognize we're responsible, and we can either let this tragedy, this injustice, help us to wake up and change things, or we can just continue the same.
And I think even the churches, the churches are way too silent. People speak out and they cry out about certain social issues, but the issue of immigration, senseless death, corruption, abusive human rights, nobody’s seems to be that worried. And as Christians, as Catholics, many of us will be celebrating the Passion and the Crucifixion of Christ Jesus this coming week. On Good Friday, many people will be walking in via crucis, lamenting the death of Jesus, but how many years have we been doing this? It becomes like a romantic reenactment of the death of Jesus, and we fail to recognize that Jesus was crucified last night in these 39 people who died, and Jesus continues to be crucified in every migrant who lost their life in their intent to find a better life. And Jesus is injured and wounded [in] the 28 that were wounded last night seriously, every woman who is raped on the train coming up from Mexico, every violation of their dignity is also a way that Christ once again is suffering. And I think until the Church recognizes this, and does what Pope Francis says, and gets out of the Church so we have on ourselves the odor of our flock, then things are just gonna keep on going as they are.
So like the death of Christ himself, the death of these migrants can be redemptive, as we take it to heart and take it seriously, and allow it to provoke a change in us so we can be a people of compassion and justice, especially, especially, above all, people who say they are followers of Jesus Christ.
Columbans have been accompanying communities along the US/MX border for more than 25 years. In 2019, we started our Migrant Ministry in Ciudad Juárez to welcome and protect migrants. This includes our "Cathedral Project," which we coordinate in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Ciudad Juárez. Our project serves as a welcome center and humanitarian aid facility for those under highly vulnerable conditions living outside of shelters. Currently, we assist between 800 to 1,000 individuals per day, including family members of the victims of the fire.
If you would like to support our migrant ministry, please consider making a donation here. All proceeds will go directly to caring for migrants in Juárez.