lives in the balance

A sharp rap to the door of the rectory very early one summer morning brought a sleepy response from inside.

A sharp rap to the door of the rectory very early one summer morning brought a sleepy response from inside.

Father William Healy, a priest from South Dakota, serving the then semi-rural community of Santa Fe de Los Altos high up in the hills surrounding Mexico City, quickly responded to an urgent plea. For some reason that day I was up earlier than the rest of the my Project Christopher youth service team from Canada. Fr. Bill asked me to accompany him.

Our guide lead us at a hurried pace through the plaza in front of our colonial era church of Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion and into the still quiet streets of the surrounding neighbourhood. Up one cobbled lane some blocks away a small cluster of people had gathered. When we reached them their circle parted to reveal the body of a young man laying on the pavement. Someone had placed a cloth over his face. A semi-circle of candles framed the corpse.

Fr. Healy put on his stole and began to pray. The growing crowd responded in hushed unison. One shot to the head had taken the life of the young man before us; he seemed barely out of his teens, if that. Police eventually came. We left as the street slowly took on a semblance of its normal morning routine. Wide-eyed, uniformed school children skirted the knot of people still holding vigil.

Remembering this event from 1968, some four decades ago, isn’t hard. It was very much out of the ordinary. Today in places like Ciudad Juarez, the Mexican twin city for El Paso, Texas, it is not. School children regularly confront the horrific aftermath of violence in the on-going drug wars. Sometimes they are caught in the crossfire.

Last Saturday 11-year-old Priscilla Ibarra Alfaro, an elementary school student from Texas, visiting relatives in Ciudad Juarez was murdered “along with an adult family friend as she stood in front of a hamburger stand,” according to an Associated Press release. “Her cousin, 14-year-old Victor Manuel Chuca Nevarez, was found dead inside a nearby pickup truck. Mexican authorities say 70 bullet casings were found around the scene.”

In Ciudad Juarez alone last year over 1,300 people were victims of the drug wars. This year reports point to an increasing death toll there and across Mexico. It is no wonder the number of Mexicans fleeing the killings and associated violent disruption of their communities for sanctuary in the United States and Canada is rising sharply.

“It’s the worst violence since the (Mexican) Revolution and the worst period of instability since the Revolution (1910-1919),” Howard Campbell, a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas, El Paso noted in a March 20, 2009 article in The Nation. Drug consumption north of the Rio Grande generates the illicit dollars that fuel the violence. Yukon money certainly contributes to this. The Mexican drug cartels fight over this lucrative trade with guns from the United States. What responsibility have we taken for the drug trade created chaos in Mexico?

Remember Jacqueline Garcia Morales, the graduating FH Collins Secondary student who made the local headlines in April when she and her two small children Joshua, three and Marshal, five years old who unsuccessfully sought refugee status faced immediate deportation?

A community outcry won them a stay in their deportation until the end of the school year. Now just two days after the celebration of her graduation next week they must present themselves to authorities in Vancouver again for deportation. As a single mother with two small children and no expectation of support in Mexico her family’s prospects are grim.

Given the personal situation of Garcia Morales and her children facing the rising instability in Mexico, maybe our community needs to rise to the challenge again. E-mails to Jason Kenney, minister of Immigration at requesting his urgent consideration of their request to stay on compassionate grounds may be their only option.

As Yukoners we can sometimes feel very far removed from the problems of the day. While we may not be able to solve the larger issues we can certainly act when real lives like those of Garcia Morales and her children living here among us in the Yukon are in the balance.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact

Namaste notes

Saturday, June 20 – World Refugee Day, the theme for 2009 is ‘Real People, Real Needs.”

Sunday, June 21 – 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time. A suggested reading is Mark 4: 35-41.

Sunday, June 21 – Father’s Day was first observed in 1908 as a celebration of fatherhood and male parenting.

Wednesday, June 24 – John the Baptist, preacher and precursor of Jesus, the patron saint of Quebec and with the major cities of Newfoundland and New Brunswick named for him is honoured today .