WASHINGTON — The Archbishop of San Antonio, Gustavo García-Siller, was still dealing with the pain of the community in Uvalde, Texas, reeling from a mass school shooting that in late May left 19 children, many of them fourth graders, and their two teachers dead, when another tragedy landed on the doorstep of his Texas diocese.
“The office was already closed, but I heard about it and went straight to the hospital,” the archbishop said in a July 8 interview with Catholic News Service, recalling the evening in late June when he heard of a group of migrants found dead and dying. in a stuffy trailer near San Antonio. They were smuggled into the United States
At first it was unclear if anyone had survived the 100+ degree temperatures inside the trailer carrying them, but if so the Prelate thought he would find them in one of the hospitals in the area and he picked them up. .
The death toll in this incident would eventually reach 53. Just over a dozen people, including several children, survived.
During a recent visit with a survivor who remains in the hospital, the Prelate learned of the man’s upcoming birthday. Because he had no one to celebrate with, the Archbishop gathered a group of migrants that Catholic Charities in San Antonio were helping to mark the occasion and they celebrated the man’s birthday, a second chance in life. life, with a party and a cake.
He admitted that it was tiring. “Cansancio,” he says in Spanish. The days were filled with visits: to victims, to survivors, to their families and to members of the community who are suffering. In the meantime, he presided over one funeral after another.
In the face of consecutive events of such magnitude, the archdiocesan community has been at its side to respond to those who suffer among them.
Although the community as a whole has suffered, it is certain that “those who have lived (the tragedies) are those who have suffered the most”, the Archbishop said, recalling the harrowing account of one of the survivors whom he visited.
“He’s 21 or 22 and he was inside the caravan, which didn’t have 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 choice but to “meet their physical needs” in the space they had carved out for themselves.
“There came a time when he said he felt his skin was, like wrinkles, like they were burning, like they were inside an oven,” the Archbishop said. “Then the desperation began.”
The migrant told the Archbishop that some members of the group started heading towards the center of the caravan. Sensing that perhaps the end of their journey on this earth was near, some grabbed their small Bibles, rosaries and prayer cards with the image of Jesus and various saints, and began to pray.
” Lord, have mercy on us. Good Father, listen to us. Take care of our families. Protect them,’” they prayed, and even in the end, Bishop 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.
Slowly they began to crumble, to fade, the survivor told him. Those who were still conscious “didn’t know if it was just fainting or if it was death,” Bishop García-Siller said.
It showed, he said, a “natural inclination from within, to trust in God, to speak out (to that God)” that many Latin Americans have, even within various religious traditions. , he said.
He was criticized for humanising the migrants in the caravan.
“Just because he is injured crossing the border doesn’t mean he can stay,” a Twitter user told the Archbishop after he tweeted about the survivor’s phone call with his mother.
But he has dealt with critics for some time, and they increased when he called for limits on high-powered weapons, such as those used to kill children at Uvalde’s school.
“Stay in your lane,” Twitter user @ProLife4U2 told him.
“We are getting negative vibes” in the archdiocese, he said. “But it is clear to us that you do not fight evil with evil. In the face of evil, only good prevails. … We do what we do for the people, for the glory of God towards his creation. So, what is negative sometimes causes wounds but the wounds can purify us to continue to love and accept others.
And sometimes it also helps to recognize one’s mistakes, he said.
He credits the Vatican-led process of listening sessions, sometimes called synod listening sessions, intended to generate collaboration in the Catholic Church, with helping him and others in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, to face the tragedies of this year.
“Something that impressed me a lot was the pope’s call for synodality, to work together, which made us all responsible for everything. We had already been working on it for a year, a year and a half, so in these circumstances (of the shooting and the fate of the victims of the caravan), I could see how precious it was, ”he said. declared to CNS.
“In this spirit of collaboration”, which synodality calls for, “it is no longer a question of what I have lived…it is our experience, our time, our capacities and, also, our fatigue, our frustrations, our pain,” Bishop García-Siller said, and it is God who moves the community to act with a spirit of faith, “it is God who moves all of this among us.”
Many brother bishops with whom he recently met for a retreat in June, also expressed their support, their condolences, including those whose club he joined: the bishops who face massive losses in their dioceses.
There is a sense of shame every time one picks up the phone to call the other to offer condolences for the latest mass shooting or tragedy in their respective diocese, not least because there are solutions but few political will for the country to solve them, he said.
“It’s a shame we have to deal with this on a regular basis,” he said.