slides0207 Zapotilan del Rio 1990 - bruce witzel photo


Threatened in the Americas – 3 Parts



“In this dehumanized world in which we live, in which money is God, they (migrants) are the cheapest commodity. But we’re also a commodity in one way or another.”  

Father Alejandro Solalinde


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Part 1 – A Glimpse Back, from Bruce


“If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”  St. Paul


slides0211 (2) Mountains of Oaxaca 1990 - bruce witzel photo


I remember the first time I dreamt in Spanish. It was Springtime of 92’.  I had been in Mexico for part of 6 months and I spoke “muy poquito   – very little.” As I awoke I felt amazed – like I was part of the people. They had embraced me with their love. 


scanned slide 0125  Oaxaca 1990 - on tripod & timer by Bruce Witzel


I was volunteering with a group of Christian Co-operatives founded by Mario and Estelle Carota U.S. expatriates, and then with the MEI – Itinerant Ecclesial Missionaries, a group inspired by Padre Alejandro Solalinde, a Catholic priest working in the State of Oaxaca.

MEI was a unique group of Mexicans – a lawyer and a nurse, a few seminarians, and a handful of campesinos and local women. I was the lone Canadian carpenter.


slides0212 Church in Zapotitlan del Rio, Oaxaca, October 1990 - Bruce Witzel photo


I first interviewed Padre Alejandro, in the remote village of Zapotitlan del Rio in October 1990, reporting it for a progressive Catholic newspaper based out of Vancouver Island, my Canadian home.


slides0204 Alejandro Solalinde in Zapotitlan del Rio Oaxaca 1990 - bruce witzel photo

Here is an excerpt:

Fr. Alejandro, a gentle and enthusiastic local priest, co-works with lay person and a seminarian in visiting other villages and the sparsely populated mountain areas. They often travel by horseback, mule or by foot and conditions can’t be described as easy.


My friend Pedro on left, with 2 other campesinos in Oaxaca 1990 - bruce witzel photo


I was told by Fr. Alejandro how in one local village official reports of 1989 showed 462 deaths due to malnourishment, tuberculosis, and other “unknown causes”, which he more concisely attributed to pesticide poisoning.


                             slides0268 Zapotitlan del Rio 1990 - bruce witzel photo


After my shock in hearing this, I asked the padre what we who are “well-off” could do. He replied simply, “First pray! Then defend the human rights of the poor. Finally, don’t use more than you need to.”

Island Catholic News – August edition 1991


slides0216 MarioCarota left in blue, Fr. Alejandro Solalinde  (with beard and white shirt) with local people  - Zapotitlan del Rio, Oct. 1990 - bruce witzel photo



That was a quarter century ago and as time passed, I’d lost contact with Alejandro.  One day in late 2010 I was reading a bulletin for Amnesty International, a human rights organization which my wife and I support.


1346390_orig Alejandro Solalinde and the Amnesty lnternational urgent action Campaign


Turning the page, I was astonished to see the padre’s recent photo with the headline, Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerra – Mexico, followed by an article calling for an urgent letter writing campaign to the Government of Mexico.

The briefing said: “Father Solalinde is a Catholic priest who has dedicated his life to providing a place of safety for migrants, away from the criminal gangs who exploit and abuse them… He has faced frequent intimidation. His life is at risk…”



Part 2  –


Current Pastoral Dimension for Human Mobility


  I was hungry and you gave me food,

I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,        

I was a stranger and you welcomed me…      The Gospel of Matthew 


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Father Alejandro Solalinde and his compadres now run a shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec, a sweltering railroad town where migrants from Central America wait to scramble atop cargo trains that will take them on the next leg of their wearying trip to the United States…


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5349212_orig photo from Hermanos en el Camino migrant shelter


The following is an excerpt of Christ’s Path 

(The Story of Padre Alejandro Solalinde)


written by Emiliano Ruiz Parra:


Alejandro Solalinde purchases a thirty-cent cappuccino and leaves a fifty-cent tip. He washes and irons the five white, mandarin-collared shirts and two guayabera shirts that make up his wardrobe. He doesn’t own suits but the whiteness of his clothes is enough to transmit elegance and finery.


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His watch costs fifty pesos (a Casio illuminator), and has not joined the generation of Blackberry, iPhone, and iPad-using priests.


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He does, however, spend a small fortune on prepaid phone cards for his cellular phone used primarily to receive phone calls from the national and international press.




He sleeps on a hammock inside a small bedroom clustered with clothes, backpacks, and books belonging to his collaborators but tends to surrender that space and instead, places a mattress in the yard where he spends his night accompanied by his bodyguards.


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If a migrant arrives at the shelter with his feet torn and aching, he immediately buys him a pair of shoes identical to his.


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He doesn’t have a desk, or a secretary, or an office. He receives his guests in a small space beneath a palm tree-roof, and it is impossible to hold a conversation with him for more than two minutes before someone interrupts him to ask for a bar of soap, toilet paper, money, or a glass of water.


869899_orig from Hermanos en el Camino migrant shelter


He takes quick showers in a small bathroom that he shares with the shelter’s volunteers and uses a toilet that flushes only after manually dispensing bucket-full’s of water into them. If there is a watermelon in the Juchitan market’s donations he will eat it with a smile on his face regardless of its freshness…


2102183_orig from Hermanos en el Camino


Four state police officers from the Oaxaca government look after him—which he only accepted after…(past) president, Felipe Calderon’s wife personally insisted…


He carries his clothes in a broken suitcase of poor quality that has lost its handles and wheels…


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For years, he was no more than a village priest, with all of the sacrifice and conviction that such a position requires, but without much social, political or religious influence. In addition to his religious studies, Solalinde double majored in History and Psychology and completed a masters in family therapy.


456621_orig Alejandro Solalinde - Hermanos en el Camino


Solalinde is a generous administrator who prefers to give money before saving it. He takes a chance by opposing an industry in which the highest politics conspires with organized crime: the kidnapping of migrants.


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Part 3 – Padre Alejandro (in his own words)…



Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerra in Mexico, June 2009.Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerra is the coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Care Centre for Migrants in Southwestern Mexico (Pastoral de Movilidad Humana Pacifico Sur del Episcopado Mexicano) and director of a migrants' shelter in the municipality of Ixtepec, Oaxaca state.


The biggest challenge for me to overcome is the constant intimidation, harassment and disrespect from people who don’t want me to carry out my work…. Many local authorities, criminal gangs, drug traffickers want to get rid of human rights defenders – they think we get in the way… Despite all their efforts to stop us from carrying out our work, we must continue…


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We have around 65 or 70 places – houses, shelters, food kitchens – around the country where we can host migrants.


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We give them food to eat and drink and allow them to rest for a few days before they continue their journey.


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We also inform them on the different routes to the north, to the United States, on the dangers awaiting them, on the risks of being kidnapped, on the Mexican and the American migrant legislations … And then we let them decide what they want to do.


7496071_orig Hermanos en el Camino migrant shelter


Sometimes, when they have received all the information, they decide to return home; in this case we organize the repatriation. If they want to pursue their journey to the north, we let them go.


1796658_orig Padre Alejandro Solalinde, Hermanos en el camino


Or some of them want to stay in Mexico. In this case, we help them to take the necessary steps.


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Migrants have become a gold mine for organised crime. The latest extortion modality consists of mafia members intercepting trains and asking migrants to pay a certain amount of money for each stretch of railroad.


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They tell them: “If you refuse to pay, we throw you off the train”. And they do throw them, no matter if they are kids, women, or the elderly.


img_0484 Hermanos en el Camino     7176992_orig Hermanos en el Camino


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What NGO’s have done is to protect us by denouncing the situation or running campaigns – like that of Amnesty International, which mobilized many to write hundreds of thousands of letters to Mexico’s highest level bureaucrats.


Amnesty International Saskatchewan


It has been very significant for myself, the shelter, and the migrants to be defended by three United Nations (special) Rapporteurs, the International Organization for Migration, Peace Brigades International, Amnesty International, the organization of American States, and other organizations that have made statements in our favour both within and outside Mexico.


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This has all given us some degree of credibility, it has helped us enormously. These people are more effective than our guardian angel, and more effective than bodyguards to protect my life.


Alejandro-Solalinde - unknown source


I am a Catholic priest and I believe in God and in God’s kingdom. When I defend human beings, I run into trouble. I criticize the Mexican government because of the Merida Initiative. I think they are obsequious with the north and mean with the south. I criticize the cartels because of the way they treat their brothers, this cannot be. As for the Church, I criticize the corruption, the power and the issue of human rights because they do not admit women. I cannot keep silent faced with so many injustices…..


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I am a grain of sand in the (Mexican) government’s shoe: I make them uncomfortable. As long as there is no justice for the migrants, they’ll have me on their back. I won’t give in to pressure …


Alejandro Solalinde - photo source unknown



They have to cope with me, because the only other alternative would be to kill me….  If one day they succeed at killing me, that doesn’t scare me. My faith prevents me from being afraid. Besides, now I have the support of my fellow citizens.”


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In peace and solidarity with all migrants and human rights supporters.


“Salva a tu pueblo senor – save your people, oh Lord.”



~ Bruce ~




(most photos in Part 2 & 3 are courtesy of the Hermanos en el Camino Migrant Shelter – click for website) 


Dance with One Love



    • Rosaliene, I have wanted to share this since I began blogging 4 or 5 years ago, and when I read in 2010 about the initial death threats to Alejandro. With what is now happening with people voting in the United States primaries, especially in regards to the candidacy of Donald Trump, I felt no longer could I be silent about the plights of migrants.

      In many ways, I believe what is happening now is not so different than that of poor American farmers during the dust bowl years of the great depression, with California shutting it’s border.

      Padre Alejandro is a person who will always be close to my heart, and I cherish the friendship I had with him. As you say Rosaliene, may such work of love and equality multiply across the land… like Jesus’ did with the loaves and fishes.

      With peace and solidarity…. Bruce

  1. Your wonderful piece reflects what religion should be! Inclusive and loving rather than exclusive self-promoting. I’ve lived in Mexico for 15 years and every time I visit elsewhere in the world, I breathe a sigh of relief to be back in Mexico–or even an airport waiting room full of other Mexico denizens. I applaud everything you and the good padre do. In these days of Trump depression, you make me optimistic that there is still a chance that love and peace will prevail.

    • Thank you for this comment, Judy.

      As I had been looking in depth at the work of the shelter and situation of the migrants, I felt that reporting it now would bring an different perspective on migrants. Especially considering the deterioration of civility of some Americans during their current election campaign.

      When Alejandro spoke at University of California Riverside in 2013, he named the root problem by saying this – “greed and huge disparities of wealth in Latin America and the United States has led to the severe poverty that causes mass migration. Most migrants have no choice but to move on.”

      In the many different interviews, articles and reports that I researched for this blog-post, Padre Alejandro often referred to the plight of migrants as similar throughout the world – often in countries victimized from war and exploitation of people and resources, like in Central America.

      I thank you again for your kind support and understanding, Judy. Peace and love to all.

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