Photo by Mitchel Lensink // Unsplash

A Love That Crosses Every Border

Unexpectedly meeting two illegal immigrants, Fr. Matt finds himself wanting to stay with them.

I was speaking a few weeks ago with a very nice old lady at a parish in Texas who was very upset that so many drug dealers and murderers were being let into our country through the southern border. I wanted to calm her down, so I simply suggested, “Surely they are not all drug dealers and murderers…” to which she responded, “Yes, but they are not all good either.”

Yes, few things in life are a matter of all good or all bad. For every story about immigrants finding success in America in good, wholesome ways you can find a story about some immigrants causing problems in this country.

I wanted to tell the story about two immigrants that I met this past Sunday. This is the story, as far as I know it, about the brothers Jose and Carlos (nobres de fantasia, made-up names) and their family.

Jose and Carlos crossed the Mexico-United States border a few weeks ago…illegally. The only reason I mention the legality of their entry is that it explains the dangers they faced getting across the border. They did not stand in line… I do not know how they came in, but in crossing the border, Jose got injured, fatally. His brother Carlos was uninjured but accompanied his brother from the border to the Phoenix hospital where they kept Jose on life-support. The prospects were not good. I did not see Jose die; I both pray that he will recover, but assume that by now he has died from his injuries. What I want to tell you, though, is what happened in that hospital room.

When I walked into the hospital room, I was surprised to see a smile on brother Carlos’s face. He was so happy to see the priest and so happy that the priest spoke Spanish. He led the way, telling me that things did not look good but that we were going to place his brother “en las manos de Dios” (“In the hands of God”). He then proceeded to pull out his phone and call his family back in Guanajuato, Mexico on FaceTime. On the other end of the line was a room full of family members ready to pray for their son, their brother, their friend Jose who was in the last moments of his life.

And so we prayed, “The Lord be with you…” and after a few seconds’ pause, the response came over the phone, loud and clear, “And with your spirit!” It went on like that throughout the rite of anointing. For those who are not familiar with hospital scenes: usually the family barely knows the responses or are too grief-stricken to make the responses, especially in a case as tragic as this.

After I had done the anointing, I asked Jose’s family back in Mexico to lead us in the Our Father. We would pray quietly along with them because of the lag of the internet call. (I learned a few things during Covid…). Again loud and clear.

I wanted to say something to this family who was saying so much to me about faith and hope and love. All I could think of to say was “We are not going to leave Jose.” I knew I would have to leave eventually, of course, but I wanted them to know that Jose would be accompanied to the end, by the Church, by the hospital, by his brother. At this time, the priest normally takes his leave and tries to go on with the rest of his day. But I stayed. I wanted just to be around these people more, not because I had something to give them but because I want to be where the Lord is. And the Lord was so clearly there.

So, I sat down on the couch in the room. Carlos and the family on FaceTime went on to pray the rosary (as best they could with the internet lag and all), and I pulled out my breviary, the Liturgy of the Hours. I was going just to silently pray my Evening Prayer while the family prayed with Jose. To my surprise, the interpreter, a hospital employee, asked if she could sit down with me and pray Evening Prayer. So we prayed. It was a time of prayer. An unforgettable time.

Eventually I had to make my way out. I prayed another decade of the rosary with the family and then proceeded to give Carlos my cell phone number (priests don’t normally do that on a sick call). But I wanted to give him a contact in this country where he had just arrived, where he was now left alone.

The story continues, of course. I never know what happens when I leave a hospital room. But I do know what happened in that hospital room. It became a tabernacle of the Lord’s presence. Not just because a priest was there but also because of the faith of a family and the love that (through the gift of technology) crosses every border.

I honestly don’t know what fixes to our immigration system would have prevented Jose’s death. But I do know that I experienced the personal love of the Lord for me through the faces of Jose, Carlos, the translator, and the family back in Guanajuato. What a gift!

Fr. Matt, Phoenix, AZ