Missionary Sending

“This Is My Body”: A Reflection on My Migrant Journey and the Eucharist

In the Eucharist, “we experience Christ’s love for us—and for others. In the depth of prayer, we become so moved and sensitized to his love for those who suffer that the words of St. Augustine become a reality for us: ‘The pain of one, even the smallest member, is the pain of all’ (Sermo Denis)” (Eucharist and Social Mission: Body of Christ, Broken for the World, pg. 7). Many foreign nationals migrate, under conditions of maximal vulnerability, to seek asylum and protection from harm. In the United States, many of them live invisibly, without any sense of belonging or security. Therefore, it is necessary for migrants and refugees to feel connected and welcomed and for the community of believers to encounter them so that they experience a sense of healing, transformation, and communion.

I was born and raised in Mexico. In my country, I was unable to finish high school because of my family’s economic hardships. Determined to resume my education and make something good of myself, I immigrated twenty years ago to the United States in search of a better life.  

People kneeling before the host in a monstrance at Eucharistic adoration

A Life-and-Death Journey

Before embarking on my journey, I went to my town’s chapel to talk to Jesus, truly present in the Eucharist, and to entrust myself to him. Even though I was sad about everything I was going to leave behind, including my parents, I experienced a moment of consolation during my contemplation of the Lord in front of the tabernacle and an old crucifix. I knew Jesus was there, listening to the joys and preoccupations of my heart and mind. It was a very comforting moment before the living God. Amid the silence surrounding the chapel, I did not feel alone.    

Like many migrants and refugees crossing oceans and deserts to arrive at the promised land, I also journeyed for hundreds of miles through Mexico and through a harrowing seven-day hike across the Arizona desert. On the first day of our journey, our group was robbed at gunpoint. The men that assaulted us were armed with machine guns, they took our possessions and beat some of the members of our group without any compassion. The leader of the armed group approached me and pointed his gun at my head and asked me if I was afraid to die. At that moment I cried out to God in my heart, “Lord, will this be my last day? I decided to migrate in search of a better life, but is this how it will end?”

Migrants in winter coats carrying backpacks

I was only sixteen years old. I was afraid, but somehow I managed to say, “You have no authority over me. It is not for you to decide whether I live or die.” I knew in my heart, just as I had known a few days before in the chapel, that I was not alone. The offender looked at me, surprised by my answer, and asked me to lie down on the floor and not to open my eyes until the armed group had completely departed. My life had been spared and not one of my bones was broken.

I had put my faith in the Lord, and he was watching over me and delivering me from all troubles and evildoers, as David prays in Psalm 34:

The righteous cry out, the LORD hears

and he rescues them from all their afflictions.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted,

saves those whose spirit is crushed.

Many are the troubles of the righteous,

but the LORD delivers him from them all.

He watches over all his bones;

not one of them shall be broken (Psalm 34:18–21).

Our Refuge, Source, and Summit

I do not intend to portray myself as a righteous man, nor is my story the only one. There are millions of unique and sad stories of migrants and refugees, some of which will never be told by our brothers and sisters who never reached their destination. I weep for the lives that have been lost, drowned in the oceans and bodies left unburied in the deserts. The toll on human suffering and the lasting trauma that migrants and refugees experience on their journey is immense. While these experiences of our human journey make us vulnerable, Christ lifts our vulnerability through his sacrifice on the Cross. At the Eucharist, our burdens and preoccupations are transformed into feelings of hope and gratitude. As the Psalmist put it, “Because you have the LORD for your refugee and have made the Most High your stronghold, no evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent” (Ps 91:9–10).

Close-up of a crucifix

Over the years, I have experienced Christ’s immense love, mercy, and companionship in the Eucharist. He is my refuge and the source of purpose in my life and ministry. These encounters with Jesus at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass have also led me to experience more deeply how I am created in the likeness and image of God. It is through Christ’s life and Paschal Mystery that my migrant journey is best understood and shares in the mystery of God.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian life and of the human journey to the divine. Christ is a pure sacrifice to God and a self-gift to humanity. “Through Him, with Him and in Him,” our dignity is restored, and our hearts are healed. “Through Him, with Him and in Him,” our migration story achieves its full realization. “Through Him, with Him and in Him,” our difficulties, pains, and wounds join Jesus’ sacrificial love to God.

“The Sacrament of the Eucharist is itself a striking and wonderful figure of the unity of the Church, if we consider how in the bread to be consecrated many grains go to form one whole, and that in it the very Author of supernatural grace is given to us, so that through Him we may receive the spirit of charity in which we are bidden to live now no longer our own life but the life of Christ, and to love the Redeemer Himself in all the members of His social Body” (Pope Pius XII, Mystici corporis, no. 83). In effect, “The Eucharist draws each of us closer to Christ as individuals, but also as a community” (Eucharist and Social Mission: Body of Christ, Broken for the World, pg. 7).

Priest holding a host to distribute for communion

The Unifying Power of the Eucharist

As Pope Francis reminds us, “the presence of migrants and refugees—and of vulnerable people in general—is an invitation to recover some of those essential dimensions of our Christian existence and our humanity that risk being overlooked in a prosperous society.” The Eucharist is a summons for us to examine how we respond to those in need: “We must not forget that ‘the ‘mysticism’ of the sacrament has a social character. When those who receive it turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality, the Eucharist is received unworthily” (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, no. 186). The more we choose to love one another, the more fully we exist and share in the mystery of life with God. On the contrary, the more we limit our relatedness and acceptance of those relationships, the more we diminish our existence and holiness. For indeed, when Jesus prayed to the Father, he prayed that all may be one… “as we are one” (Jn 17:21). The best way to experience and foster this unity is through the reception of Holy Communion by receiving Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity; we become the Body of Christ.

In the midst of the current reality of women, men, and children risking everything for a better life, let us remember that the Body of Christ includes migrants and refugees. Let us share the journey and break bread together at the table of the Lord. Each migrant and refugee we encounter represents an opportunity to live the mystery of the Eucharist more fully and transform our own prejudices and vulnerabilities. Let us also pray that our hearts are at peace and able to listen to Christ as he whispers to us from the altar, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19).

Yohan Garcia serves as the Catholic Social Teaching Education Manager of the Office of Education and Outreach for the Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Yohan is also an Adjunct Faculty at the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago where he teaches a course on Catholic Social Ethics and Migration.

Scripture excerpts used in this work were taken from the New American Bible, rev. ed.© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. All quotes from Popes and Vatican sources, copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana (LEV), Vatican City. Excerpts from the Eucharist and Social Mission: Body of Christ, Broken for the World used in this work were taken from Sacraments and the Social Mission, Living the Gospel. Copyright © 2013, 2021, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC.