SCJ student deeply changed by border experience

Alonso Barrantes (middle) with fellow volunteers


“I ask myself and I ask you, what would Jesus do in the desert for these families? What would Jesus want you to do today?”

– Luis Alonso Barrantes, SCJ candidate  


Alonso Barrantes, 47, is an SCJ candidate completing his third year of philosophy at St. Xavier University in Chicago. During his summer ministry assignment in Houston he had the opportunity to spend a few days at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas. It was an experience that “deeply changed my heart,” he said. Alonso reflects on the experience below:

On June 28 I flew to Harlingen where Fr. Richard MacDonald, SCJ, introduced me to the Humanitarian Respite Center. Thank you, Father Mac, for your hospitality.


I worked at the help center under the supervision of Sr. Norma Pimentel. I prepared and served food  to new arrivals. I even conducted my first orientation to a new group of volunteers. I re-organized clothes and shoes for women, men, children and infants, and stocked food in the pantries. I also brought snack bags, clean clothes and blankets to the immigrant families that waited hours at the bus stations for departure. I worked in whatever way needed and it felt that it was still was not enough.

Consider all that these people went through to come to the United States. Now imagine yourself walking for miles through a hot desert, hungry, exhausted and thirsty. Your lips are cracked from the heat and your face is peeling from the sun. As the night settles it starts to get very cold and you and a group of strangers try to find shelter in some bushes or abandoned homes to avoid being killed by a wild animal, a poisonous snake or spider, or even, perhaps, by another person. For the next month this is what your life is like. Some of the people in your group will either die of hunger or they will be kidnapped by a drug cartel or they will drown in the rivers.

Every day is a fight for survival. Your life feels like it has no value and your chances of surviving are minimal. These are some of the stories shared by the immigrant families that I was blessed to meet while I worked at the Help Center.

I am no longer the same person inside. As my summer ministry ended I found myself having a deeper sense of appreciation for all that God has blessed me with. I get to come home to a warm, cooked meal. I can take a nice long, hot shower and put on clean clothes. I can travel without fear.

My heart is deeply changed by the stories I heard. Some of them I don’t think I can share as they are too graphic. I will forever have an engraved image in my mind of the pain and suffering that these families endured for days and weeks and maybe even months just to find a place to call home, a warm meal and a nice hot shower with clean clothes.

I encourage all of you reading this message to find ways to help these families. Hearing Sr. Norma share her experience during the assembly was deeply moving but it is much different to experience it for yourselves. I don’t think words can describe the pain.

I ask myself and I ask you, what would Jesus do in the desert for these families? What would Jesus want you to do today?