The following comes from a May 19 story by Jeanette Arnquist on the Inland Catholic Byte, the news site for the San Bernadino diocese.

The first thing you have to understand is that crossing the desert between the Mexican border and Tucson is very dangerous.  There is NO water.  None.  Well, there are some cattle tanks that amount to e-coli soup with a side of salmonella, but even these are far apart.

The terrain is brutal.  It is rocky and steep.  Some places there are trails, others just tracks and others just bush whacking.  In Arizona, most of the vegetation is full of spines or thorns.  There are rattlesnakes and scorpions.  And it can be very hot.  And it can be very cold as well.

Migrants crossing the desert typically do so with a group led by a coyote or pollero, one who promises to smuggle them across the border for money.  The coyotes are accountable to no one.  There are no Trip Advisor reviews of various coyote services, so sometimes the coyotes themselves take advantage of the migrants or abandon them.  In the case of women, even worse things happen much too often.  In addition to paying the coyote, migrants have to pay the drug cartels to cross their territory before they even enter the United States.

Human remains of hundreds of migrants are found every year.  Most die from exposure, especially lack of water.  And so humanitarian groups like the Samaritans and No More Deaths go out into the desert to save lives.  In the past year I have made about 40 trips to the migrant trails.  I cannot help thinking of this as a Way of the Cross.

Last October I walked to the Mexican border with two other Samaritans, Kathryn and Raul.  It was about four miles each way, down a stream bed in a canyon.  The trail winds in and out of the stream, sometimes it is flat and sometimes it is rocky.  No one maintains these trails.  Sometimes they divide and separate, then come back together.  Sometimes they disappear.

On that particular day we had gone to the border, and then turned around.  We were about three miles from the car.  At this particular point the trail was flat and appeared to be smooth.  I was walking fast and not paying enough attention.  My foot hit a rock and I fell flat on my face.  I hurt everywhere.  I was seeing stars.  I was afraid to open my eyes. I was afraid I had broken my front teeth.  I could see the blood pumping out of my nose.  Slowly and carefully my companions helped me to sit up, took off my back pack and tried to staunch the flow of blood from my nose (to no avail). Slowly they helped me to my feet and into the shade where I rested while Kathryn tried to get cell phone reception, but there was no signal to be found.  Carefully we walked the three miles back to the car and drove to the closest emergency room in Nogales, Arizona….

A couple weeks ago Al led a trip to the spot where a migrant had died.  The exact GPS locations of found human remains are a matter of public record, so it is not too hard to locate them.  Five of us made this trip, Al, Ron, my husband, Cliff, Elisa and I.  Al had made a cross in his workshop and his intention was to erect it on the site.  When we loaded up to go to the site, Cliff volunteered to carry the cross.

It was not a large cross, only about 3 feet tall.  The natural way to carry a cross is just the way it is depicted in Christian art.  As I was walking behind Cliff I couldn’t help thinking about Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross of Jesus.

We found the location.  The migrant’s shoes were still there.  We planted the cross, placed a rosary and a candle and said a small prayer.  Later we discovered another cross made out of sticks and small shrine nearby.  Who had erected it?  Was it to commemorate the same death or an additional one? We may never know.

If only we could all know about the crosses migrants carry across the desert.

Last Tuesday I went on another trip with Al into the Tumacocaries.  Our intention was to check on some water drops and observe how much use the trails were getting.  As we went along, we encountered several sites where people had died.  Usually a migrant will try to get into some shade, perhaps to rest or cool off, and be unable to get back up again.  Near the end of the hike we came to a trail leading up out of the arroyo.  A mesquite tree of some size was growing there and Al pointed out a shrine commemorating a death.  Words fail me….

To read the entire story, click here.