Fr. Fabian Marquez and El Buen Pastor Mission
Diocese of El Paso, Texas
In one of the poorest areas of Texas, meet the parish that puts others first.
“I think today is his birthday,” Diego's father said, with tears in his eyes. “We’ve been traveling so long, I’m not sure what day it is, but I think today is his birthday.”
Inside a temporary immigrant and refugee shelter in El Paso, Texas, Diego’s father was consoled by a priest named Father Fabian Marquez.
Diego and his father Miguel—whose names have been changed to protect their privacy—had recently fled Central America, along with two of Miguel’s other children. Some 2,000 miles later they found themselves at the Catholic Pastoral Center in the Diocese of El Paso.
It was there, on a Wednesday during Advent, they met Fr. Fabian and the parishioners of El Buen Pastor Mission Church.
Father Fabian is the pastor of El Buen Pastor in the Sparks Colonia of El Paso, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Texas. Father Fabian has led the mission since 2015, serving a growing area with many new residents coming from Mexico.
Many members of the community are refugees and undocumented.
El Buen Pastor has long looked to Catholic Extension for financial assistance. Since 1999, Catholic Extension has sent nearly $76,000 to support the church expansion and parish and priest salary subsidies.
Their lack of status and resources has not deterred the community from actively participating in parish life—including answering the call to serve others.
“We don’t do this for the income. We do this for the outcome,” Fr. Fabian said.
El Buen Pastor is active in social justice ministries. Each year they celebrate mass on the U.S.-Mexico border.
They prepare Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets for families in need and take meals to immigrants and refugees temporarily sheltered in local assisted-living facilities.
“Father Fabian welcomes the neighbor, the poor and marginalized and teaches his congregation to do the same,” said parishioner Rocio Valenzuela. “We follow our shepherd in welcoming our brothers and sisters who have made the 2,000-mile journey escaping violence, poverty, extortion, underemployment in search of better opportunities for them and their families in the United States.”
Late last year, in response to the influx of asylum seekers, Bishop Mark Seitz opened the Catholic Pastoral Center to hundreds of immigrants in El Paso.
These immigrants, fleeing the violence and poverty of Central America, often present themselves to border agents and request asylum. After they are detained and processed, immigration officials release them to await their court hearings, where a judge will decide if their claim for asylum is legitimate.
Catholic Extension sent $5,000 to the Center in 2018 as part of our Family Reunification Fund support and has historically supported many parishes, people, and ministries in the diocese that serve the immigrant population.
For months, Fr. Fabian and about 40 volunteers for El Buen Pastor have spent their Wednesdays at the Catholic Pastoral Center. They provide meals, clothing and cleaning supplies to the immigrants housed there. They clean the kitchen, restrooms, showers and sleeping areas. They welcome immigrants as they arrive from Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers, make travel arrangements for the asylum seekers, and drive them to bus stations and airports.
Bishop Seitz called the parishioners “prime examples of leadership roles in our community.”
On many occasions, ICE officials give little or no notice before dropping off busloads of asylum seekers at the Center. Immigrants and refugees are rarely given an explanation or information about where they are being taken and why.
Liliana Esparza, the parishioner at El Buen Pastor who recounted Miguel’s story, said that Wednesday in December was no different.
Miguel explained to Fr. Fabian, “I was in another line where they were being deported. One of the agents pushed me and my children to another line, and we were brought here.”
When the bus arrived at the station, the parishioners sprang into action to process and feed everyone coming off the bus. That’s when Miguel came to Fr. Fabian and told him it just might be Diego’s birthday.
Father Fabian and the El Buen Pastor parishioners bought Diego a birthday cake and gift. Together they ate and sang Las Mañanitas, a traditional Latin American birthday song.
Afterwards, Miguel approached Fr. Fabian.
“I don’t know why God put me in the line that led here,” he said. “I was scared, but now I’m not. Thank you.”
After refueling at the center for a few days, they departed to be with relatives in another state, while they await their hearing for legal status in the United States.
Led by Fr. Fabian, the parishioners from El Buen Pastor have made it their personal intention to directly serve the needs of their kindred brothers and sisters in Christ.
“To know Father Fabian is to know compassion, kindness and love,” Esparza said. “So great is Father’s love for others, that one can’t help but want to live by his example.”
In early August, horror and tragedy struck an already beleaguered community. A gunman shot and killed 22 people in a targeted attack against Hispanic people and immigrants.
The New York Times reported that Fr. Fabian spent the next days with families. In the hours following the shooting, he sat with them as they waited on news from their loved ones, passing the excruciating minutes in prayer until law enforcement gave them the update. He was with them when they learned their loved ones had been killed.
Throughout that night and into the morning, he prayed with 17 families. He vowed to attend 17 funerals.
Emotionally and physically exhausted, Fr. Fabian spent the week preparing for memorials and funerals, supporting grieving families, and standing in support for the Hispanic and immigrant communities of El Paso, all while caring for his own flock at El Pastor.
El Buen Pastor seeks to be in solidarity with these families who have traveled with their children in search of a better life.
“We are called to be present,” Fr. Fabian said. “If we see with the eyes of faith, we can discover Christ in those in need.”
For those seeking asylum, the path ahead is full of uncertainty. But this path, as unsure as its destination might be, is better than the poverty and violence these immigrants left behind. And it is at this point of their journey, past the peril but before the resolution, that the El Buen Pastor parish meets and comforts these travelers with dignity and respect.
The Lumen Christi Award is proudly presented by Catholic Extension, a non-profit that
provides grants to build the Catholic faith in the poorest areas of the United States.