TIJUANA (Border Report) — Late Monday evening, as the sun was starting to set on Tijuana’s east side, Father Juan Diego Mendoza was outside pulling on a rope and letting go, ringing a church bell calling people to Mass.
The Catholic priest recently arrived in Tijuana to be reunited with members of his former congregation who have fled the Mexican state of Michoacán in recent months.
Michoacán, located west of Mexico City, has seen a lot of violence as cartels fight for control of the area’s avocado industry, which brings in $2 billion annually.
“I’m fleeing like the rest,” said former Michoacán resident Brenda Esquivel. “There’s a lot of violence and the truth is, they’ll harm you, your family and your children.”
Esquivel says she left three months ago and now hopes to make it to the United States in the future.
“We’re seeking another country as a refuge to educate and better our children,” she said.
For the time being, she and her two children will remain at a shelter and church where Mendoza now works.
“It’s a shelter for my children and we’re in good hands with him. It brings me joy that he is here, I knew him back home and I’m happy to have found him here,” Esquivel said.
Mendoza said the decision to come to Tijuana was an easy one.
“They asked if I would support them and I jumped at the chance,” he said. “A woman recently hugged me and thank me for coming here. They feel a joy with me being here listening to them if only for a few minutes.”
The Catholic priest said things are incredibly difficult in Michoacán right now.
“At times, even during the middle of the day, it’s dangerous to go to the corner to buy groceries because the guy on the motorcycle shows up and hits them with a shot, threatens them and scares you. Driving at night is not possible; you don’t want to be on the road after dark.”
Mendoza estimates at least 5,000 former Michoacán residents have come to Tijuana in the past few months.
“I’m here to provide urgent support, a friendly hand, a human hand, and to provide spiritual support with mass and prayer,” he said.