Mexico, the patron saints of migrants

Norma handing out food.
06 April 2024

“How long will we go on? As long as the Virgin of Guadalupe wants. Without Her, the Patronas would not be here”. The image of the Morenita stands in the center of the Romero family home in Amatlán de los Reyes, a small town surrounded by sugar and coffee fields about ninety kilometers from the port of Veracruz, Mexico. Grandmother Leónida, her four daughters, seven grandchildren, and a number of neighbors used to gather in front of the painting to pray together. They were doing so again that February 7, 1995, when daughters Rosa and Bernarda returned home, still affected by the encounter they had just had. They were returning from the emporium with a bag of bread and milk when they had come across hundreds and hundreds of Central Americans herded along the tracks, waiting to resume their journey to the U.S. on the roof of the dismal freight train that everyone in Mexico calls La Bestia. Three boys, who were exhausted, had pleaded with them, “Please give us something to eat”. The two women had emptied their grocery bags but felt it was not enough. It was Leónida who spoke the words that would mark the Romeros’ lives: “You did well. The Virgin of Guadalupe will be happy but we must do more”. Since then, the Patronas-as the residents of Amatlán de los Reyes have christened them-have started going every night along the train line to distribute rations of rice, beans, tortillas, and bottles of water to migrants. “Today, we are organized. Sister Maria de los Ángeles phones us from Tierra Blanca as soon as she sees the locomotive go by. We then know that after about three hours it will arrive at our place.The nun also tells us about just how many migrants are on board so we can adjust our portions. At first we prepared 30 meals but they were not enough. Gradually, we asked for help from merchants who give us leftovers and trusting in Providence, we increased. We are not rich, but we cannot remain indifferent in the face of this tragedy”, says Norma Romero, according to whom the assistance to the people of La Bestia is a continuation of the prayer group”. One prays with words and with gestures. One strengthens the other”.  For the past 10 years, in addition to distributing food, the Patronas have opened a small shelter for those who want to refresh themselves before continuing their journey. “It was a little house that my father gave me. We repurposed it. By what means? The same ones we use to get food for migrants. We put in what we can. For the rest, the Virgin of Guadalupe helps us”. (Lucia Capuzzi)