SANTA ANA de GUADALUPE, Mexico – As the United States calls out the National Guard and prepares to build new fences along the border, some migrants in this deeply Catholic area are seeking assistance – but not from some ordinary coyote or guide.
They’re turning to a saint.
The Shrine of St. Toribio, in Santa Ana de Guadalupe, draws pilgrims from throughout Mexico.
His name is Toribio Romo González, a priest whose rise to sainthood began in the 1920s, after he was killed during a Christian uprising in this central-coastal state of Jalisco.
To many, he’s known as a patron of migrants – a figure who, legend has it, has led to safety many who have braved the hazards of border crossings.
The popularity of the priest has soared since he died in 1928. Many Mexicans who have headed north or returned home tell inspirational stories about being spared through St. Toribio’s intervention.
Luciano González López, 45, who returned not long ago to his hometown of Teocatilche from Denver, tells such a tale.
Last year, he said, he and two other men were on their way to Colorado in search of work, when they got lost in the smoldering Arizona desert.
They walked for nearly two days without water, he said, when suddenly they saw a shadowy figure standing next to what looked like an ocean.
"It wasn’t an ocean," he said. (They were, after all, in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.) "But the sight of this man next to an ocean gave us enough hope to follow him out."
With tears rolling down his cheek as his son Benito put an arm around him, he went on:
"When I told my wife back in Mexico, she responded: ‘It was St. Toribio, the migrant-smuggling saint, leading you to safety. I had been praying to him for your well-being.’