“Charity on the Border”

The Church strengthening ties to help Venezuelan migrants

By Aloysius John

Caritas, bishops and representatives from other organisations came together in the city of Cucuta, Colombia, to strengthen the Church response to the Venezuela migrant crisis. The meeting at the end of January 2020 was organised by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the Migrants and Refugees. Caritas Internationalis Secretary General, Aloysius John, reflects on the meaning of charity in such a challenging context.

The Church in Latin America is confronted with one of the worst humanitarian crises of our modern times. It is a peculiar situation, neither a natural disaster nor a situation of war. It is caused by vested interests in politics which are strangling the poor socially and economically, leaving no choice for innocent civilians but to take the road to leave their home lands. Tens of thousands of Venezuelans leave their oil rich nation in search of food and money to ensure their day to day survival.

In their desert of misery and hopelessness, Casa del Paso, run by the diocese of Cucuta, bordering Venezuela is an oasis of peace, comfort and compassion for these wanderers who have nowhere to go. More than a thousand people come to the centre every day, to cherish a precious moment of humanity with dignity, compassion and feel the caress of the mother Church. A family of four with a handicapped mother in the wheel chair said with a smile, “here we are treated with care and love”.

Migrants crossing the border between Colombia and Venezuela.

Migrants crossing the border between Colombia and Venezuela. Photo by Caritas

The bishop of Cucuta, Mgr. Victor Ochoa, is convinced that no one has the right to be happy alone. He mobilises solidarity both locally and internationally and with the funds obtained he feeds 1600 people every day. “The poor have the right to dignity and good treatment” is the basis of his mission and he takes personal care in the humanitarian response. During the visit to the centre, the bishop shared his conviction,

“I don’t feed the poor, I create conditions for them to have what they deserve, the right to good treatment, good food and good care.”

These convictions are translated into concrete action through a well-organised professional soup kitchen composed of volunteers who prepare nutritious and appetising food for these weary and tired migrants who flock to the centre after hours of walk.

Bishop Victor Ochoa says with a smile,

“Charity organised and done with love and care can make a smile blossom on these tired and weary faces.”

As a pastor, I need to express the love of the Church, which does not make any difference of nationality. They are in my dioceses and they are people of God and I help them. Providence provides me with what I need to serve them.”

Caritas soup kitchen in the border between Venezuela and Colombia.

Caritas soup kitchen in the border between Venezuela and Colombia. Photo by Caritas

Here we can see how charity inspires everything and charity makes anything possible and it gives hope to those who have lost. It is love and care shared and lived. A woman comes with her new born babe and shows her to the bishop, he embraces the child, a kiss on the forehead which resonates his conviction, “you are a person, you are precious to me”. And when another mother comes with her twins, the bishop placing his hands on their heads and says, “May God bless your children.”  Moved with compassion he asked the volunteers to give some milk for the babies and a food packet for the mothers.

This encounter with the centre and the bishop, on this hot Saturday morning, was a lesson for us, members of the Caritas confederation. It is the power of charity and love lived with conviction and commitment and loving care which gives people strength. His lessons to us was charity in humbleness to act against the sin of indifference to human suffering which dehumanises us all. The bishops simply gave a last reflection; we need to constantly struggle against the dehumanisation of the human person by promoting solidarity through sharing and caring for those who are left out on the wayside of our society.


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