Since setting out from Honduras in the hope of reaching the United States, Nicolas Alonso Sanchez has worn a simple wooden cross around his neck – a quiet reminder of the Roman Catholic faith that propels him forward.
“God gave me the strength to get all the way here,” Sanchez, 47, says at a temporary shelter where he is staying in the Mexican border city of Tijuana.
On the long journey from Central America to U.S. soil, many migrants have taken solace in their religion.
Several ‘caravans’ of mostly Honduran migrants who made the trek this year faced arduous conditions, braving fierce heat by day and searching for a safe place to sleep at night.
Many regard their faith as their compass.
For migrants far from home, the street often becomes their place of worship. On a warm afternoon in late November, pastor Jose Murcia, a Salvadoran who lives in the United States, preaches outside a temporary shelter in Tijuana to a cluster of men.
Later, Murcia joins a pair of men kneeling in the middle of the road, their heads bowed in prayer.
On their way to the U.S. border, the migrants walked the length of Mexico. Here, the Virgin of Guadalupe – an image of the Virgin Mary who devotees believe appeared to an indigenous man in the 16th century – looms large. As if seeking her protection, a man drapes himself with a banner depicting her as he crouches before a phalanx of riot police in Tijuana.
The migrants face a future of uncertainty. The United States said this month that many asylum seekers may be forced to stay in Mexico while their claims are processed. Some Mexican border towns are perilous places to wait, plagued with crime and violence.
But many migrants, bolstered by their faith, say they are undaunted.
“God always takes care of me,” says Osmel Efraim, an 18-year-old Honduran migrant in Tijuana. “Thanks to God, I am here, safe and healthy.”