During the refugee crisis of the 1980s when thousands of Guatemalans fled their homeland for Mexico, Br. Marty Shea kept a diary of his work in the refugee camps.  He writes, ‘”The long road of tears from Guatemala is marked by graves.  As in all violence the victims are many: those killed, those who die of disease and heartbreak, the children, and with the children hope dies.  The victims are the living and the dead.

But facts aren’t faces…Refugees are a living reality, a world of tragedy from Africa to the Middle East…from Thailand to Central America.  They are the unlucky to be born across a river, a street, a few miles from some dividing line marked by barbed wire.

Its night as I write and I wonder why I write at all.  But write I must if in some way I can help tell their story…give a face to the statistics.  Will they be heard?  Will the secret and horror of Guatemala ever be known?  That’s why I write on a night like tonight.”



In his diary, Br. Shea included a poem written by a Guatemalan refugee that shows what it felt it like in the moment to leave your whole world behind:


Homeland Denied

…I crossed the frontier blinded with sadness
feeling an immense pain on that dark and rainy morning
which took me farther yet than my existence…

…I crossed the frontier bearing dignity
bearing a great costal (bag) filled with so many things
from that rainy land
I took a thousand memories of my heritage
the sandals that were born with me
the smell of spring
the smell of moss
the embrace of the corn fields
and the glorious callouses of childhood
I have taken with me my colored blouse (guipile)
for the fiesta when we will return
I took the very bones and what remained of the corn
really this great bag will return from where it came
come what may

I crossed the frontier of love
but I will return tomorrow
when the mother who was tortured
will weave yet another blouse
when the father who was burned alive will return to life
once again in the morning
to salute the sun from the four corners of our ranchito
then there will be strong drink (cuxa) for all
and burning incense
and smile of the children
and the happy sounds of the marimba
there will be a glowing in every ranchito
over the rivers where the corn will be washed
in the early morning
they will light sticks of pine resin
to light the paths
along the cliffs, the rocks, and the fields.

                                            –Guatemalan refugee

To return to the introductory exhibit blog post, click here: Moments of Mercy