• David Carlson

463 "If you stay here, you will be dead." Hope outweighed the risk, and the journey began.


Day 463 Tuesday, June 22nd, 2021

"If you stay here, you will be dead." Hope outweighed the risk, and the journey began.




Imagine looking out over a sea of cots in a vast convention center, coliseum or stadium. There are no dividers, simply cot after cot, side by side, row after row grouped into 36 pods with 30 cots in each pod — five rows of six. That comes to nearly 1,000 cots.


A second "dorm" of that size brings the number to 2,000 at Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, where unaccompanied minors, all boys between the ages of 13 and 17, were sheltered safely and cared for on their long, arduous journey toward unification with family or sponsors in the United States.


They are brave, courageous, resilient boys from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who have faced unimaginable trauma. Sent at the urging and sacrifice of family, they left everything they ever knew for a better future. One told of his mother's words echoing in his heart: "If you stay here, you will be dead." Hope outweighed the risk, and the journey began.


In spite of all that, the boys exude a sense of harnessed energy marked by playfulness, potential, promise and esperanza, hope.


"I have learned that boys are a contact sport. They are playful with each other — the tweak of a toe as one passes the cot of another, a cap removed, a jab in the side, a fist bump or a leap on someone's back as they line up for meals or showers, and watch out for that soccer game! It is spontaneous, all in fun, done as soon as begun but joyful. It touches on the need for contact in a world that has grown foreign and cold."


Contact leads to relationships. Bonds of friendship develop between the boys at Freeman, which was obvious when one recently left the group to be unified with his family. The other boys lifted him high, and cheers arose with hugs all around as he bravely strapped on his duffle bag and headed off.



The 24-hour, seven-days-a-week compassionate care of sisters and volunteers from more than 20 religious congregations and numerous parishes restored hope that the promise of love is alive in America. It was particularly touching when a sister was asked to pray with a boy who just heard that his grandfather had died. Together, they moved to the altar to Our Lady of Guadalupe, decorated with countless origami flowers, trying to bring solace to the heartbroken child.


Promise and potential exude from the youth, and the sisters recognized it immediately as they taught English, presented American currency, reviewed mathematics, explained traffic signs and played card games with fierce competition and understanding.


These brave, courageous, resilient boys from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador exude a sense of harnessed energy marked by playfulness, potential, promise and esperanza, hope.



Two areas that were particularly notable were the arts. A local artist came day after day, volunteering his time and sharing his resources to work with the boys, encouraging them to give expression to their feelings. The outcome was breathtaking and displayed in the cafeteria for all to see. The quetzal, a beautiful national symbol of Guatemala, was often pictured along with the mountains and the setting sun.



Music, too, brought them to life. On Mother's Day, mariachis, a group of five women, raised the roof of the coliseum as the boys all converged near the stage, those in the back standing on chairs or cots to see. They reluctantly let the group leave after an encore because it was time for lunch — pizza and ice cream on a day that otherwise would be heavy with longing.


Esperanza and a future is what brought them here. These boys represent our hope, our future here in the United States, as well. For two months, the coliseum held our future artists, composers, doctors, craftsmen, architects, vineyard owners, truckers and so much more.


Normally, sisters responding to calls to help minister to migrants at the border work with adults and families. Unaccompanied minors, by law and court settlements, go through a separate system: They must be released from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement within 72 hours.


That agency must place the children into supervised care, such as family, foster care or licensed group homes. However, there has been such a flood of unaccompanied minors that the Office of Refugee Resettlement has set up facilities to temporarily house thousands of children.


(Sister Mary Jane Lubiunski)


The Leadership Conference of Women Religious and Catholic Charities USA put out a call for help in those facilities. Adrian Dominican Sr. Mary Jane Lubinski responded and served through the archdiocesan Catholic Charities at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, before HHS moved the boys out of the coliseum May 24:



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