Migrant and Immigrant Experience Mission,
McAllen and Alamo Texas Tamaulipas, Nuevo León y Coahuila, México
Deacon Carl and Gretchen Valdez
“The Lord raises the needy from the dust; from the ash heap lifts up the poor.” 1 Sm 2:8
In our insightful 6-day visit with Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Patricia Forster, Mary Dumonceaux,
and Aurora Tovar, we met the People of God in Mission, McAllen, and Alamo, Texas and in the states of
Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, and Coahuila México. In México, we traveled on smooth, asphalt roads with
inadequate sanitation facilities, as well on dry, deeply rutted dirt roads at less than 15 mph to get to 3 of
the 54 villages where the Franciscans have evangelized, all surrounding San Rafael de Galeana, Nuevo
Leon. We were welcomed with caring hospitality everywhere.
With Franciscan guidance, our impactful experiences reminded us of those we had had many years ago in
Mexico and Guatemala, and were two-fold:
1. Visiting two hospitality houses, the first being Casa Franciscana for middle/high school-aged girls in
a walled perimeter apart from the businesses of San Rafael. The housing, kitchen, dining room,
classrooms, laundry, and chapel are arranged in a square with a pleasant, park-like center with tiled
walkways, vegetation and statues of St. Francis, St. Clare and St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
- Hermana “Madre” Aurora Tovar, now the Director of Casa Franciscana, grew up in Mesquite, one
of the villages where we met her lovely parents and other family members, attended Casa, graduated
from the university, and then realized her Franciscan vocation. (Visit https://alfmn.org)
- The second was Casa María in Saltillo for young women at the university age level. Both houses are
the results of the evangelizing mission of the Franciscans since 2008 to open upward-bound doors for
girls and women. The girls live in these houses as they attend local schools and come from any one of
the 54 poor mountain villages surrounding the San Rafael community. (Visit https://alfmn.org)
- This experience gave us hope that despite the extreme poverty, the abuses of the cartels and
sometimes ineffective government, and the history of political and economic injustice at the hands of
our own government, there was light, a light provided by women who were learning, leading and, as
always, loving their families and communities.
2. Meeting people from Mexico, Haiti, Central America, Brazil, and Venezuela in the various stages of
immigration at three different sites:
- El Sendero 2 (the way/path) in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico separated by the Rio Grande from
McAllen Texas, a secure area with about 1,000 people living in wall-to-wall tents or a huge tent with
cots and waiting to receive their first immigration appointment. Mass is offered twice a week.
- The Catholic Charities Center in Reynosa, also secured, headed by the Mexican Sisters of Mercy,
the stage awaiting their next immigration appointment to enter the US. Here, the families live in
simple apartments and gathered in a large community area where they ate, attended Mass, and
participated in diversionary activities.
- Catholic Charities Respite Center of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen where immigrant families
had been vetted but were waiting for transportation by their US sponsors.
- Visiting 15-year-old Isabel Briseida of Casa Franciscana in her home with her family (grandparents
and tía who took charge of her when her mother was murdered by her father).
- Meeting and drinking coffee with the parents and family of Sister Aurora in their humble home.
- Shaking hands with the venezolanos, hondureños, nicaragüenses, salvadoreños, guatemaltecos,
mexicanos, and haitanos who have neither face nor voice on our television screens.
- Gretchen helplessly meeting the desperate eyes and holding the hand of an elderly Haitian man
speaking Creole with unabating pain as he lay on one of the hundreds of cots in the large tent separate
from the wall-to-wall tents outside.
- The three young boys who laughed in disbelief as they ran their fingers along the top Deacon Carl’s
mostly hairless head.
- Watching Deacon Carl touching and giving individual, smiling blessings to those who could not
receive communion at Mass at El Sendero.
- Hearing stories of leaving a home country months ago and having waited from 2 to 4 months with
children at El Sendero.
- Feeling the fearful anticipation of the young Venezuelan man whose appointment to be allowed into
the US was the next morning.
- Gretchen talking with Nancy, who walked for 4 months from Honduras with 3 children 7 years-old
and younger to escape abuse and poverty and was now waiting for her sister in Virginia to complete
paperwork so she could join her and begin promised work in a paint stripping company.
- Handing out socks to long lines of appreciative adults and toys and balloons to even longer lines of
excited children, who sometimes just wanted a hug or to hold hands.
- Passing out toiletries to anxious adults who needed feminine hygiene products, diapers, lotion for
scaly skin, band-aids, pain relief, and someone to listen.
- Watching people proudly raise their hands when the priest asked, “How many from Venezuela?”
followed by a list of every other country from Central and South America and the Caribbean.
- Witnessing the wonderful camaraderie of the many teams of religious Sisters, the energetic, young
Jesuit seminarians who twirled children in the air and priests who celebrated Mass with “small
helpers”. (And one elderly Fr. Roy in McAllen, who was joined on the altar by his 3 dogs who ran
- Feeling incomplete witnessing the evangelizing mission of the Franciscan sisters with their vision,
perseverance, and relationship-building to bring Christ and hope into the lives of so many amid
poverty and violence.
- Being reminded of those who live in material poverty, yet with love and commitment to family, as
well as their acceptance and generosity offered to pale visitors.
- Feeling even as an American with documents the tension of crossing the US-Mexican border.
- Being reassured by the process of vetting and movement of refugees from one center to another on
both sides of the border. It softened the media pictures of hordes of terrified victims climbing walls,
swimming while trying to avoid razor wire in the river, and children being tossed over walls. Yes, that
most surely happens as does the orderly, compassionate process that we were able to witness. This
was a beacon, a small but comforting light of hundreds of volunteers caring for others.
There is much to learn from those who live in material poverty, including resourcefulness, perseverance,
patience, and richness of faith, as well as the reminder of the assumption of our next meal.
“The border could be a real humanized space which could rescue and save the lives of the
people who are on the borderline of life and death.” Pg 12, “The Border as a Humanized Space”,
Nasir Uddin (PhD), Visiting Professor, 2023 James Fellow in SSSHARC, The University of Sydney,
Australia & Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Chittagong, Chittagong 4331,