Nuevo Laredo is a border diocese. From here hundreds of migrants try to cross the border into the United States every day. It is controlled by the drug cartels. Gunfights and violence are part of daily life. The Bishop, Monsignor Gustavo Rodriguez Vega, granted us an interview.
How would you describe your diocese?
“Nuevo Laredo is a city in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. It is on the banks of the Rio Grande, facing the city of Laredo in Texas, United States. The diocese is on the border. Every day many migrants try to cross the border chasing the ‘American dream.’ The trauma of deportation often ensues. Today, more than half the migrants are deported. The other problem we have to face is violence. It has always been present but, in recent years, it has grown out of proportion, mostly due to drug trafficking and the battle to control drug routes. One day will never be forgotten by the people: 19 February 2010. There was a gunfight in Nuevo Laredo in which many people died.”
How is the Church tackling these emergencies?
“Thirteen years ago we founded Migrant House. The director is a Scalabrinian priest and the whole diocese participates. Almost all the men and women we welcome there have broken dreams. Many risk their lives to reach the United States. They leave their families and sell all they have to start the journey. Then many of them are robbed, humiliated, or even killed. Going back home means total failure. Many have been threatened by American judges with five to ten years in jail if they are caught again.
Then there is the violence. We have priests and religious in the diocese who take care of people in painful situations and assist the families of those whose dear ones were killed. It is bad enough to have people killed but it is even worse when they disappear without their families knowing whether they are alive or dead. In the parishes, schools, and groups we use ‘emotional liberation.’ This frees repressed emotions so they don’t harm people’s mental health. There are priests who assist not only those who are suffering but also those who cause others to suffer, despite the fact that it is very difficult to be on both sides at the same time. We have adolescents who used to attend catechism classes but ended up in the vortex of violence simply because they never had the chance to live a decent life.
Mier is a typical town. It has been struck by physical and moral violence more than any other place. Five years ago, it had 7,000 inhabitants but now it has only 500. The people have fled. Mier was transformed into a battlefield and every day there are gunfights and more people disappear. It is located on the line of battle between two powerful drug cartels. I recently visited the parish house and the church. I found the walls riddled with bullet holes. In spite of everything, the priest has decided to stay with his people.”
What is the Church doing to counter the violence?
“Many priests and religious are continually threatened because they never stop condemning the people responsible for the drug cartels and drug pushing in the local communities. And still they remain. Our message must always be one of hope. We must convince ourselves and the people that things can change. It is a question of a change of heart. We must think of our young people and give them hope. We must persuade them to think differently. We know very well this is a long-term job but we never get discouraged.”
What are the other diocesan priorities?
“We must evangelise those who are furthest from us in the Latin American spirit of a Church in a permanent state of mission. For this Year of Faith we are carrying out a series of activities as part of our pastoral plan. One area to which we pay particular attention is that of the growing number of women abandoned by their husbands who have left to find work in the United States. There are also young single mothers abandoned by their men. It is important to take care of them by supporting them spiritually and with concrete acts of solidarity. We have a number of religious communities involved in this field.”
What about the diocesan clergy?
“The diocese has 46 parishes, 50 local priests, 29 male religious, and 85 nuns. In the past four years, we ordained ten new priests. We have about 20 young men studying philosophy and a further three in theology. It is not easy to work among the youth because they are continually surrounded by gangs and violence. However, I do feel we are making progress by welcoming the young people who feel they want to give their lives to God. We are making considerable efforts in the pastoral care of the youth and the university students.”
Now we have Pope Francis, a man from Latin America …
“It is a moment of grace for us. The universal Church has recognised the importance of Latin America, not only because of the numbers but also because of the theological and pastoral reflection that the local Church is carrying out. I believe Pope Francis will go for a Church in a ‘continual state of mission’. I think the Pope has some nice surprises for us up his sleeve.”
Jorge B. Decelis