With Pope Francis set to visit the Mexican city of Juarez Feb. 17, some crime victims are telling their stories of loss — and talking about the healing power of faith.
“That the Pope would give his attention to a city so struck by violence is hopeful,” said Juarez resident Erika Graciela Acosta Campos.
Erika spoke in a video released by the Diocese of Juarez. She said the Pope’s upcoming visit makes her feel that “I’m not alone, somebody is suffering along with me…somebody realizes I’m hurting or that it’s hard.”
Because of the Pope’s visit, she knows that “someone so important is taking notice or is taking into consideration these feelings I have.”
Erika’s father was killed by armed men during the robbery of the family’s grocery store. The store was located in their family home.
The young woman, now a married mother of a two-month-old baby, said the murder of her father dealt a terrible blow to the family.
“For example, my mom stopped going outside. She was afraid to step out onto the street,” Erika recounted. “She would go out for something at my younger sister’s school, to run an errand or something, and there was a lot of anxiety. She was shaking, she froze up, she didn’t want to go outside the house.”
Erika and her two sisters were also fearful in their own home.
“My dad died in our house,” she explained.
In January 2011, Juarez was ranked the most violent city on the planet for the third consecutive year. Violence perpetrated mainly by the Juarez Cartel resulted in 3,000 deaths, according to the Mexican NGO Citizens Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice.
With 300,000 inhabitants, Juarez is located in northern Mexico on the U.S. border. It sits on the other side of the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. Originally called Paso del Norte, its current name honors former Mexican President Benito Juarez.
In 2010, the violence in Juarez was only comparable to what Medellin, Colombia endured in its fight against the Medellin Cartel from 1989 to 1993 — or comparable to violence in Baghdad, Iraq in 2006.
During the worst of the violence in Juarez, an average of eight people died every day.
However, violence in Juarez has decreased in recent years. In 2014, the Citizens Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice reported 538 murders, a considerable drop from the more than 3,000 in previous years. Even so, as of January 2015 Juarez ranks 27th on the list of the 50 most violent cities in the world.
“Juarez is recovering right now,” said Erika. She warned that “there’s still a lot of violence around.”
There are many small children who are orphaned and single mothers widowed by the violence.
Erika said Pope Francis’ visit to Juarez brings a message that “it’s worth the effort to go forward.” She said residents are hoping for “those words you need to hear, at best to give you some consolation, those words of encouragement.”
The young Mexican woman spoke about her faith. Her family, facing the painful loss of their father, was “clinging to our faith in God, who knew why this had happened.”
She also found other forms of help: “the community, the affection, the support.”
Citing her own experience, Erika said that “clinging to God is the only thing that can heal you. I don’t know, you feel rage, helpless, furious, angry, and suddenly you get to the point when you want to turn back the clock, but you can’t, you don’t see the way out, and the only way out is to hang on to God, to cling to your faith and try to move on.”
“When you get to the point where you say ‘now what?’ the only way out is God,” she said.