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An Immigrant’s Story: ‘No One Ever Asks’

By Cathy Beckley, SNJM

I met Rudy at the St. Vincent’s food pantry in McMinnville, Ore., where he works. One day while doing some volunteer work filling shelves with food, I asked him to tell me about his life. He said no one ever asks.

When he was 16, his mother told him he needed to leave Nicaragua before he was forced into the military. He would have to travel over 2,000 miles alone, with little money to survive on. Still, the worst part was saying goodbye to his mother and never knowing if they would see each other again.

It was a long and desperate journey. As Rudy’s story unfolded, I learned about the grief, fear and helplessness he faced. On his own, he made it as far as a refugee camp in Honduras, where authorities wouldn’t release him because he was an unaccompanied minor. He had to build his own shelter out of scrap materials. He had no choice but to wait, pray and cling to his faith. Months passed.

Finally, his stepfather tracked him down and got him released from the camp, but his troubles were not over. The two were able to fly to Mexico, then make their way north by train. But crossing the border into the U.S. meant hiring a “coyote” to help them run through the night. Rudy held his stepfather’s hand, slowing his steps for the older man, fighting panic. He didn’t know they had reached their goal until he looked up and noticed signs were written in English instead of Spanish.

Last weekend, the Sisters and Associates of our Mission Centre invited Rudy to tell us his story. He is a middle-aged man now, married and working to support his family. Speaking from his heart, he told us that until he was asked about his earlier life, he had locked the memories away. But once that door was opened, somehow he could face it. He told us he went home and shared his story with his wife, and they cried together.

When our group learned that the cost of applying for U.S. citizenship had been insurmountable for Rudy, we offered to assist him financially. We also plan to help defray the cost of a visit to the family he had to leave behind as a frightened teen-ager. This offer brought tears to his eyes.

Mother Rose says each of us should reach out a hand to others. Our Chapter Acts tell us to help people on the margins, and help with the full development of each human person. What I told Rudy is that God is generous and people want to help. We pray that he is blessed, along with all those who ask for – and listen to – stories like his.

In the photo: Sister Cathy Beckley introduces Rudy to Sisters and Associates gathered for a Mission Centre meeting in Lake Oswego, Ore.