By Rhina Guidos
Catholic News Service
San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller was still tending to the pain of the community of Uvalde, Texas, reeling from a mass school shooting that in late May left 19 children and their two teachers dead, when another tragedy landed on the doorstep of his Texas diocese.
“The office had already closed, but I heard about it and went straight to a hospital,” Archbishop García-Siller said in a July 8 interview with Catholic News Service, recalling the evening in late June he heard about a group of migrants found dead and dying inside a sweltering trailer near San Antonio.
The migrants were being smuggled into the U.S.
At first, it was hard to know whether anyone had survived the more than 100-degree temperatures inside the trailer carrying them, but if they did, the prelate figured he’d find them at one of the area hospitals and he went looking for them.
The death toll in that incident would eventually reach 53. A little more than a dozen people, including several children, survived.
During a recent visit with a survivor who remains in the hospital, the prelate found out about the man’s approaching birthday. Because he had no one to celebrate with, the archbishop gathered a group of migrants that Catholic
Charities in San Antonio was helping to mark the occasion and they observed the man’s birthday, a second chance at life, with a party and a cake.
He admitted that it has been tiring. “Cansancio,” he said in Spanish. The days have been full of visits: to victims, survivors, their families and community members who are suffering. In between, he has been presiding over one funeral after the other.
In dealing with back-to-back events of such great magnitude, the archdiocesan community has been at his side to respond to those suffering in their midst.
Though the community at large has suffered, to be sure, “the ones who lived through (the tragedies) are the ones who suffered the most,” said the archbishop, recalling a harrowing account from one of the survivors he visited.
“He’s 21, or 22, and he was inside the trailer, which had no air conditioning, not even a window … they didn’t have water and they didn’t have food,” the young man told the archbishop.
The conditions were so terrible that they had no option but to “perform their physical needs” in the space they had carved out for themselves.
“There came a time when he said that he felt that his skin was, like wrinkling, as if they were burning, as if they were inside an oven,” the archbishop said. “Then, the desperation began.”
The migrant told the archbishop that some in the group began moving toward the center of the trailer. Sensing that perhaps an end to their journey on this earth was near, some grabbed their small Bibles, rosaries and prayer cards with the image of Jesus and of various saints, and they began to pray.
“Lord, have mercy on us. Good Father, hear us. Take care of our families. Protect them,’” they prayed, and even at the end, Archbishop García-Siller said, their concern was for others, their families. Their natural inclination was to draw closer to God instead of cursing him for their plight, he said.
It showed, he said, a “natural inclination from within, of trusting oneself to God, to express yourself (to that God)” that many in Latin America have, even within a variety of faith traditions, he said.