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Leaving Everything Behind To Flee To A Foreign Land

By Catherine Heinhold, Pastoral Associate for Ignatian Spirituality & Prayer

First published in the January 7, 2024 bulletin


*Names of migrants have been changed to protect privacy.


Just after Thanksgiving, I traveled to El Paso for a board meeting for Maryknoll Lay Missioners. We board members were privileged to meet a number of people trying to claim asylum in the U.S. and to hear their stories. At lunch one day, we met Daniela, from Venezuela, whose four-year-old grandson -- whom she had legal custody of and had raised from infancy -- was taken from her at the border because he wasn’t “immediate family.” She wept as she recounted her anguish over the 3 weeks it took for lawyers at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Group to help her secure his return. Many in our group wept along with her. The documents the lawyers used to prove Daniela had custody were the very same documents she had shown at the border. She had endured a dangerous journey in hopes of a safer life for herself and her children, but instead both she and her young child were traumatized by forced separation.


A few days earlier, we crossed the border into Ciudad Juárez, Mexico to meet in small groups with migrants seeking asylum in the United States. My group visited Albergue San Oscar Romero, a migrant shelter run by Fr. Carl Quebedeaux, CMF, an American Claretian priest. At the shelter, we met with single adults and families with children from Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Venezuela. They shared their stories with us, including why they had left their homes. One shared that gang members had threatened his young daughter if he didn’t give them his house and car. Another family had fled after they were threatened if they didn’t turn over an inheritance they had received.


One woman, Ana, showed me how she uses the CPB One app, which allows migrants to apply for an appointment to present themselves at a port of entry — the first step toward claiming asylum in the United States. The number of appointments granted each day is limited, and Ana did not receive one that day. Those who travel to the border seeking asylum often suffer harrowing journeys, risking violence, kidnapping, and extortion – and then are stuck waiting for months in Mexico to get an appointment to enter the U.S. legally. Not everyone has a phone on which to use the CPB One app, and using it can be very confusing.


While we talked and enjoyed the company of the children, some of the shelter residents prepared a lunch of traditional Mexican sopes. I was struck by the realization that these people who had come seeking welcome from the U.S. in a time of personal danger were instead offering hospitality to us visiting Americans.


This weekend, we celebrate the visit of the magi to the Holy Family. This story of hope and wonder is celebrated in many cultures with special foods, pageants, and songs. If we listen closely to the scripture, however, we hear a note of danger woven throughout. Herod is disturbed to hear of a “newborn king of the Jews.” The magi return by a different route, having been warned against Herod in a dream. The child seems safe for the moment.


However, this incident is the trigger for the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, after an angel warns Joseph of the danger. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus leave their home and everything they know to escape to a foreign country. Meanwhile, Herod massacres all the infants in and around Bethlehem in his search for Jesus.


My recent experience at the U.S.-Mexico border leads me to pray with this part of the story in an Ignatian way. I invite you to join me! Asking God for the grace of solidarity with migrants, I read Mt 2:13-18. Using my imagination, I see the terrain Mary and Joseph travel with their newborn son. I imagine what they look like, what they are wearing and carrying. Who do they meet when they arrive in Egypt, and how are they welcomed? What do Mary and Joseph say to each other as they search for a place to live? I listen to their conversation.


I imagine myself traveling with the Holy Family, and the experiences we have along the way. After spending some time with the fleeing Holy Family, I ask God to deepen my compassion for those who migrate today, many escaping from war, persecuting governments, or violent gangs and militias. I pay attention to my feelings and thoughts.


In my heart, I speak with a member of the Holy Family about all I have experienced in my prayer. And I listen for God’s invitations to respond to today’s migrants.

Please pray for the 23 members of Holy Trinity’s Migrant Familia. To learn more about our accompaniment model, please email 

Photo credit: “Whatsoever You Do...” painting by Br. Todd Patenaude, FMS


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