Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Alejandro Solalinde, Father of the Migrants

By Roberto López Rosado (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Diario Oaxaca
June 30, 2014

Last week I had the pleasure and the pivilege to write about Arturo Lona Reyes, bishop of the poor. In this installment, I want to talk about another man devoted not only to God but to the disadvantaged, to the poorest, particularly those seeking the "American Dream", Mexican migrants and those who come from across the border, that is, from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua in particular.

According to Wikipedia, Father Alejandro Solalinde in his youth was affiliated with the Knights of Columbus, a conservative lay institution. He sought to join the Society of Jesus but his superiors persuaded him not to enter because it was an order that was "too progressive", so he enrolled in the Preparatory Institute of the Carmelite priests in Guadalajara. He studied classical literature, philosophy and theology, in addition to pursuing a degree in history from the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México.

However, the young Solalinde, I would say, already bore in his genes the seeds of nonconformity, of rebellion and, above all, of kindness and love for his fellow man, so he was expelled from the Carmelites and entered the Instituto Superior de Estudios Eclesiásticos where, three years before his ordination, he left the seminary along with fifteen other seminarians and formed a group called the Regional Council of Seminarians. Finally, he was ordained a priest by Monseñor Arturo Vélez, bishop of Toluca.

Recently we've heard about a subject that has to do with Father Alejandro Solalinde -- migrants, specifically unaccompanied migrant girls, boys and youth. And this priest has distinguished himself because he is one of the few who has not only helped thousands of migrants in the "Hermanos en el Camino" shelter in Ixtepec, Oaxaca, offering them food and housing, but has raised his voice to protest the violation of their human rights by the Central American and Mexican governments, and governors like Ulises Ruiz.

Although I don't know of documentation that talks about Solalinde having been nourished by liberation theology or the statements that emerged from the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM) in Medellin, Colombia and Puebla, Mexico, it is clear that he is a man who, like Lona, is not a militant in any leftist party but is a distinguished activist in that current that was called the "Church of the Poor".

Solalinde doesn't keep quiet. He denounces, accuses. He has condemned the abuses being committed against migrants, for which he has been threatened by powerful interest groups who profit from the Central Americans, from underground groups to organized crime and the National Institute of Migration authorities and municipal, state and federal police forces themselves.

The priest has led several marches to denounce the aggression but also to demand, as he did recently, that Enrique Peña Nieto allow migrants free transit through Mexico so that they don't have to ride the train called "The Beast". He has been blunt, to say the least, because he has made strong demands to both Felipe Calderón in his time and to the current federal Executive branch which he has asked for "Mexico to stop being the United States' policeman."

He's done the same with the cardinals, the leaders of the Catholic hierarchy whom he has accused of "blessing" the powerful who violate the human rights of the migrants. He has accused them of standing idly by in face of the pain of the Central American mothers who have come to Mexico in search of their disappeared sons and daughters and he was blunt when he stated that "they never raise their voices to condemn the femicides." He said that "the Catholic hierarchy needs sensitivity, to come down and get close to the people, listen to the tragedy of the mothers who have lost their children because of violence or because of being social activists."

Solalinde was awarded the National Human Rights Prize in 2012 and made a guest appearance in "La jaula de oro" ["The Golden Dream"], a 2013 Mexican film that shows the violence experienced by migrants who try to get to the United States and his pastoral and humanitarian work.

Just a few weeks ago, he was in the Chamber of Deputies where he went with a group of Central American young people, some of whom had been injured because of "The Beast", where he met with the Committee on Migration Issues led by my PRD [Party of the Democratic Revolution] colleague, Amalia García Medina, and including Lorenia Valles and Socorro Seceñas, where the young people strongly denounced the INM authorities and the police.

As with Bishop Lona, we Oaxacans and all Mexicans should be "grateful" -- as a lady from the isthmus would say -- "for the blessing from God" that is the work of this priest who is a son of God who is inconvenient for the top of the Catholic Church which has done as much as possible to displace him and other members of his order such as Fray Tomás González, his right-hand man in this struggle for the protection of migrants in the communities of Oaxaca and Tabasco.

I would say like that lady from the isthmus, at the end of a Mass offered by Bishop Lona, whom I heard imploring heaven -- but that now it would be for Father Solalinde and his "Hermanos en el Camino" shelter -- "May the Lord in His majesty bless, keep, and protect him."


Photo: Fr. Alejandro Solalinde with Diego Quemada-Diez, director of the film "La jaula de oro".

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