When I was a stranger…

“Casa Betania Sta. Martha”, the welcome house for migrants in Salto de Agua, Chiapas, Mexico, is located about 100 Km from the border between Guatemala. The house is located on the route where the migrants go through. Here the cargo trains pass through this small town wherein many migrants boarded elsewhere to proceed with their journey. They jump off from these cargo trains at Salto de Agua and stop by Casa Betania Sta. Marta. The Casa, run by SVD Mexico Province has already hosted around 8000 migrants since its establishment in March 2018.

When I visited Casa Sta, Marta in November 2018, around 15 to 20 migrants were arriving in the house every day. However, I was told that this is not a significant number for them. The maximum number of migrants the Casa hosted in a day was 250.

In my conversation with a few of the migrants, I realized that each of them has his/her reason to leave their hometown. Some migrants are forced to leave their homes because of conflicts, persecution, disaster, and land grabbing. Some migrants are seeking a better life to improve their economic situation, for better job opportunities, education and medical treatment. Some migrants move because of family ties. Many times, for these migrants, the reason is not just one, but there are still many other complex reasons. Unfortunately, some people use these migrants for their political advantages. Also, there are experiences where people who have malicious interests use the migrants. Moreover, many people are indifferent and do not want to see such migrants.

Fr. Martín Islas, SVD, four FMM sisters and a few lay staff work at Casa Sta. Marta. There are also some volunteers from the SVD parish and other groups. They help like preparing beds and meals, providing clothes and medicine, offer places to shower and a counseling service. I saw that the migrants arriving at the Casa are often tired and some of them injured. They worry about their journey and their family. I heard that during the trip there are people that died by accident, killed, raped, cheated, and trafficked. Some children were also abducted.

As religious missionaries, social commitment is often a fulfilling work, because we can see the development and growth of individuals and communities. However, in the Casa the migrants merely come and go. They pass through the house temporarily. There is no way the staff of the Casa will ever know what will happen to these migrants or what is the future that awaits them. Indeed, this must be very tough work.


I saw Fr. Martín is sitting beside a migrant and listening to him as he shared his story in front of the kitchen. And on the wall of the kitchen, I saw the gospel message “for I was hungry, and you gave me food.” I became convinced that the accompaniment the staff of Casa is a real witness of the Gospel. It is the work that Jesus wanted to do for the poor people. It is also the work Jesus wants us to do as SVDs.

May God continue to bless this work and accompany this journey of the migrants and the staff of the Casa.

Daisuke Narui, SVD

Generalate JPIC Coordinator

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