On Russian Refugees in Mexico

Recently, a letter came from the Fund for Assistance to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), which rather resembled a cry from the heart. It said that hundreds of migrants from Russia were now in Mexico, and no one was helping them—neither the Government nor charitable organizations. All these people, who naively want to get to the United States through Mexico, have only one path—to the Russian Orthodox mission, to the Holy Trinity Monastery in Mexico City. Its spiritual mentor, Fr. Nektary (Haji-Petropoulos), tries to take care of all newcomers, even though the mission itself is in dire need of support.

I thought that Fr. Nektary and I would have a usual conversation for fifteen minutes. But we talked for over an hour, and I felt that his heart was bleeding for those who have found themselves in a difficult situation far away from home, rather than for the mission. And only from the third or the fourth attempt did I manage to get the priest to talk about the mission’s needs—before that he kept talking on how refugees can be helped.

Perhaps his words will inspire some people to think and avoid such rash acts.


Father Nektary, please tell us what is happening with the Russians in Mexico right now.

—Earlier, many Ukrainians who fled the war would come to us. But now Russians are coming, many of them. Some of them are also trying to flee the war, but they have other reasons too. Many strive to get to the USA, and they haven’t ended up in Mexico because they are going to stay here. Rather, they want to go to the USA, but they are coming to Mexico simply because it is quite easy to get here from Russia, especially from Moscow. Since we have a large border with the United States, people hope to get there.

Some told me that they did not agree with Russian policies and did not support the war. Many of them are young people and I guess they don’t want to fight. They have left their families in Russia, and some, who could afford it, have come with their wives and children.

These people think it will be easy for them to get refugee status and stay in the US if they say they are against the Russian government. They believe that in this case they will be immediately accepted; but they are mistaken.

Archimandrite Nektary (Haji-Petropoulos) Archimandrite Nektary (Haji-Petropoulos) We know for sure that the United States does not accept Russian refugees, and it is very hard to get there from Mexico. I know this for a fact, because I have contacts in various organizations that help refugees at the border, including the UN and Catholic organizations. Sometimes I ask them to help our people, but each time it becomes more and more difficult, because they simply do not have the opportunity to do it. I managed to arrange accommodations for some in shelters opened by Catholics, Quakers or other religious organizations, but not by the Mexican Government.

When Ukrainians started coming to us, the Mexican authorities supported them in every possible way and opened shelters. But there is nothing like that for Russians. I talked with Catholic monks because I have friends among them and it is the major religion in Mexico. But it is very hard to give refuge to Russians there because of the huge number of refugees in general: there are thousands of them from Central America, Asia, China, Arab countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia...

In general, it is really very difficult for Russians to find shelter, and they are coming to our church for help. Of course, we are unable to provide them with any significant support. True, we can accommodate them for a while, give them some food and clothing. But nothing more.

Most of these people hope to get to the border as soon as possible. It takes two days to get from Mexico City to the Tijuana-San Ysidro border crossing by bus. It is long, expensive and dangerous, because at any moment they can be stopped and interrogated by the police or immigration officers. True, these people have Mexican visas and are here legally, but there are so many of them that it is very hard to get to the border.

And when they do get there, they wait in line for twelve to fifteen hours, only to talk to the immigration officer and be immediately denied entry! Many queue up again and are denied entry again—for the second time in a day! And if they have nowhere to stay for the night, or if they have no money, they can fall into the clutches of bandits who promise to smuggle them into the US, but they will simply rob them or beat them up, and as a result such people end up on the street without money, without documents and without help.

I speak to many of these people every day. Mexico City is far from the border, but there is no one to help them there—they only have our mission. There are only a handful of Orthodox churches in Tijuana, along with an Orthodox shelter, but these are Greeks, and they do not help. I have even tried to ask the Orthodox churches in San Diego in the USA to help refugees, as I know priests from other Orthodox jurisdictions there. But to no avail: they are overwhelmed by the huge number of refugees coming to America and literally screaming for help.

Sometimes the US accepts Russian refugees. But I would say that out of fifty applicants only one succeeds. I am always concerned about the fate of these people. They are coming to our church every day and begging, “Father, help!” Sometimes they come to the Sunday Liturgy, for confession and Communion, and say, “Father, bless us—we are going to the border.”

I answer, “Of course, I bless you. But it’s dangerous, so please don’t go there. You will fall into the mafia’s hands, and they will take everything from you! How will you get back?!”

Of course, we helped some of them return to Mexico City. And once here they decided to return to Russia. People realized that it was better to go home than to chase this stupid and false American dream.

Sometimes I get the following text messages: “Father, my application has been accepted, and I am in the USA.” But in most cases, I simply lose contact with those who have gone to the border. Indeed there are so many of these people that it is impossible to remember them all. This is our situation.

How many Russians have you received in recent months? Hundreds?

—Yes. For example, about 300 in March and about 150 in April. I would say that dozens of people are coming to us weekly.

What do you need to help them? And what kind of help does the mission itself need to be able to support these poor people?

—I would say that they are all seeking a lodging for one or two nights at the most. Sometimes I ask Catholics if they have space for one, two or three people. If they need to be accommodated for a few days, they may agree; but if more, then, as a rule, they refuse.

Some ask for money and food. I tell them, “We are unable to provide you with long-term material support. I am glad to give you some money, but it will be enough for one or two days, and this will not really help you. Instead, I’ll try to find you a place to stay and pay for some food.” But believe me, it is getting harder and harder to do this, because there are thousands of refugees in Mexico City. There are too many of them, and all the shelters for them are overcrowded.

More people ask for clothes. Our parishioners collect parcels and we deliver them. We give all we can give. Some get sick and we provide them with medicine. Of course, we pray for these people, but we are unable to provide them with long-term material support. Our monastery is small, and we struggle to make both ends meet.

The Lord takes care of us, but it is very sad to see what is happening now. Undoubtedly, everyone understands that Ukrainian refugees need aid. But Russians need it too. We care about all Orthodox people, not just individual ethnic groups.

What kind of support does the mission itself need to help those in need?

—It is a very tough situation for us, because we do not want to get involved in any illegal affairs. But a huge number of migrants is the reality of our days, and the Mexican Government does not impede this.

It astounds me that some refugees buy a single ticket from Russia to Mexico and have no money left. If you are going to travel to another continent, you must have something in your pockets. However, many people tell me that they didn’t have time to save up, or that they can’t access their bank accounts in Russia.

Sometimes there are priests of the Russian Orthodox Church among the refugees. It is a very sensitive subject and it would be wrong of me to go into details. They ask for help too, and we do our best to support them. In some cases, representatives of ROCOR asked me to help them, and we paid for them, arranging for them to be transported to the border. However, no one has ever refunded our expenses.

Several times, when refugees from Ukraine started arriving in Mexico, the Fund for Assistance to ROCOR offered us help. But the Government took care of them, and they did not need money. These people asked me for spiritual support.

However, some Ukrainian organizations rejected us outright: “You are from the Russian Church, and you are our enemies! We do not want to have any dealings with you!”

I told them, “All right. All of you who want to come to church, come, please, please, please! We will give you spiritual support, comfort you and do everything that is needed.” But we cannot work with these Ukrainian organizations, because they consider us part of the problem. Although that is not the case!

At that time I thanked our Fund, but refused their help. Now they are asking again: “Father, can we send you money?” But this is a difficult question, because if I receive financial aid from the Fund, everyone will immediately know about it, and even more people will be coming to us—not only Russians and not only Orthodox. I have no idea what to do—we simply do not have the human resources for large-scale projects. And I don’t think that our mission or the Western American Diocese of ROCOR will have the capacity to open a shelter for refugees. Under the current conditions, we are perceived as a Russian organization, and many government structures do not help us. And they don’t care about refugees from Russia either.

We do what we can and as much as we feel we can. Sometimes we give what we ourselves need to survive—we share everything. And other monks ask me, “Father, what should we do?”

I answer, “Don’t worry. The Lord will help us. If we take care of our flock, He will take care of us.”

And yet, regardless of the situation with migrants, what does the Russian Orthodox mission in Mexico need? How can people help you?

—First of all, we need your prayers and moral support, because we feel isolated. We are not affiliated with any other Orthodox jurisdictions here and feel lonely. Yes, we represent ROCOR, but many people believe that since we are “Russian”, we are their enemies.

Of course, we need financial support—but not for ourselves. Every time I tell people, “If you donate to the monastery, then this money does not go to feed the monks. We all have secular jobs and receive salaries, and thus make a livelihood. What you donate goes to our Orthodox community. All we receive is help for refugees and those in need.” We personally do not need anything—the Lord gives us means of subsistence, and this is enough. But we need resources to help refugees.

What lesson can we learn from the refugee crisis?

—All those days, especially during Great Lent, I kept telling people, “Please, please, please! Give others what you have, share with them. God is very generous to us, and we can always share with those in need. After all, our Lord Himself was a ‘Refugee’ in His earthly life; He had to go from one place to another, and we must understand that we can also find ourselves in such a situation, become refugees—without homes and families. Whether we like it or not, whether we expect it or not, it can happen to anyone. Therefore, we must be generous, kind and compassionate. We must feel the suffering of these people. They need help—and we can share what we have with them. Even if it is just a tiny bit, we can always sacrifice something.”

Sometimes people ask me, “Father, how much should I give?” And I answer them, “Give as much as you feel you can. Then it will be a sacrifice. If you give leftovers, a surplus, then you do not give enough. But if it affects your wallet, if you deny yourself some food for this, then you are doing the right thing.”

As I listen to you I feel your heart bleeding.

—It is so.

How to survive in such a situation?

—All those days, especially during Holy Week, I was crying. I was reading the Gospel passages about the Passion of our Lord and weeping. I felt that I was surrounded by a huge number of people who did not have food and lodging, who were in a difficult situation and needed help.

But then—it was on Holy Friday—I felt that I must be strong. I am a helper of the Shepherd of these people and must guide, support and help them. And if it hurts me, then I must not show it, otherwise they will feel my weakness, and this will bring them to despair. They will decide that they have no hope. I should show them that I am strong, that we must keep our faith and our lives. We have hope, and the Light of Christ’s Resurrection will lead us in the right direction. And even if today we have nowhere to lay our heads (cf. Mt. 8:20), if we are hungry, we should believe that the Lord will take care of us, and maybe tomorrow the situation will improve.

Dmitry Zlodorev
spoke with Archimandrite Nektary (Haji-Petropoulos)
Translation by Dmitry Lapa



Natasha6/7/2023 6:21 pm
Precisely because the Ethiopian Church is close to us in spirit. In general, let the hierarchs decide. Latin Americans can support Putin or not, this is their own business. It has nothing to do with the Church. No policy of the Church is needed (my personal opinion, and I hope it coincides with the opinion of others), otherwise the Church will turn into some kind of ministry or party. The business of the Church is to save souls. Let the states do the politics. Catholics need to accept orthodoxy not to support Putin, but for their own salvation.
Carlos6/6/2023 5:40 pm
A dialogue like the one that the Russian Church has recently had with the Ethiopian Church. I do not call for ecumenism, but for a more political approach. I mean, if cordial relations can be maintained with Miafisite churches within the framework of political rapprochement between Russia and Africa, why not between Russia and Latin America? I know our theological differences are considerable, but that hasn't stopped many of us Latin Americans from supporting Putin in his war against NATO. It is not necessary to adopt orthodoxy for this approach, which I certainly see as difficult beyond individual conversions. Historically, schisms were resolved not with massive conversions but by councils between hierarchs.
Natasha6/6/2023 3:06 pm
Carlos, sorry, I did not mean that you personally attack Putin (I wrote this for the Orthodox) or the Russian Church. I just wrote that our church is against distortion. What dialogue do you mean? Dialogue on social and humanitarian issues already exists between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, as far as I know. A dialogue on faith? Here everything is very clear: Catholics must repent and profess the faith as the Holy Fathers gave us. There can be no dialogue here.
Carlos6/5/2023 7:48 pm
At no time did I attack Putin or the Russian Church. Nor did I say that the article was an attack on Catholics. I apologize if I expressed myself badly. Actually, I wanted to invite you Russians to see that we Latin American Catholics are different from Europeans. And this article reflects that both Russians and Latin Americans can work together. I know there is a lot of misrepresentation against Russia. But there is also against Latin America. That is why I invited dialogue, so that we can get to know each other without the mediation of the United States and the European Union. Unfortunately, the only friendly terms between us was under communism. But if communists Russians and communists Latinos could get along, why not also Catholic Latinos and Orthodox Russians?
Natasha6/4/2023 4:14 pm
David, it is natural that in wartime the details of the operation and plans are not disclosed. But in Russia there are trials of Ukrainian war criminals, many of whom plead guilty. Over time, they are going to hold an international tribunal. It seems that several hundred or thousands volumes of crimes have already been collected. In general, I understand your condition as a westerner, because I really see a lie in your countries. But if you have been Orthodox for more than one year and have been working on yourself, then you know about a good thought. But I proceed from the words of the Apostle Paul: "If anyone is convinced in himself that he is Christʹs, let him again consider this in himself, that just as he is Christʹs, even so we are Christʹs." (2 Cor. 10:7). About communism. It didn't touch me. The USSR collapsed more than 30 years ago, and I am not yet retired. I see the obsession with communism in the West. Nobody cares about it here. But in the West, this is a fixed idea. Even the Orthodox are obsessed with it and judge us based on their "communist" ideas. I would advise everyone who fell under this idea to read what people who have been there say about Russia, or just make Russian friends.
David6/4/2023 5:58 am
Sister in Christ Natasha: It may be as you say, and Moscow is telling the truth about everything. PsyOps (Psychological Operations) is standard in war time. The saying that the first casualty of war is the truth is echoed so often for a reason. The sad reality is that in wartime, no information can really be trusted fully. This is becoming more and more true in the era of deep fakes, AI, and doctored media. Those reading this who grew up under Communism no doubt understand this even more deeply. Knowing how wars are fought in our era, forgive me if I remain a hardened skeptic towards anything that comes from government agencies, no matter what flag they wear. Carlos: I don't see this as an attack on Catholics of good-will, but rather the sad experiences of one our missionaries. The Catholic Church is bitterly divided, and in a wrecked state. I think dialogue is not the answer there, but rather love and prayer for those who are suffering, of which there are many.
Panagiotis6/3/2023 11:26 pm
God Bless Father Nektary and the others who are helping all Orthodox Christians, regardless of their ethnicity. We as Orthodox People must be United. United we will stand, but divided we will fall. The diabolical internationalists want to see us weak and divided. The devious ones are responsible for the coup in the Ukraine and the war, which has been going on for many years. They want to destroy the Holy Orthodox Church, especially the Russian Orthodox Church, because it is conservative and speaks the truth about the no good liberal garbage movements. They hate all Orthodox People. They want to destroy conservative Russia and plunder her vast wealth, including her plentiful natural resources. The same devious ones who financed the monster communist takeover of Russia. The same devious ones responsible for the murder of tens of millions of Orthodox Christians, including millions in the Ukraine, and including Holodomor. But some Ukrainians are too stupid to see this, and they have been brainwashed to hate their own blood Russian relatives. History, religion, language, DNA, customs, etc all prove that the Ukrainian and Russian People are blood relatives....... The article mentions a few hundred people or so who left Russia. This is not even 1/10 of 1%, an extremely small fraction of the total population. All countries have citizens who leave and migrate to other areas. I would not be surprised if there are MILLIONS of conservative people in the decadent West who if they could, would migrate to Russia. They do not want to stay in defile Western lands that promote feminism, sodomy, transgenderism, the destruction of the patriarchal family, and other no good liberal garbage movements. Let us pray to Almighty God and the Panagia to help all Orthodox People. WAKE UP AND FEAR ALMIGHTY GOD. All Glory to God. Just my humble opinion.
Natasha6/3/2023 3:29 pm
There is no deception coming from Moscow. Although I agree that Western media misrepresent and distort information from Moscow. And they attribute to Putin what is not. If the West does not remember how people were burned alive in Odessa in 2014, that Donbass was bombed for all 8 years, then on this side we remember. We also know about tortures, about the pagan cults of the national battalions of Ukraine. And now Ukrainians are hitting places where there are no troops. And much more. You just don't have the information. Carlos, from all Russians (not only from Russia): we don't antagonize you. We are against the distortions that are in your faith. And no, we are not for sale. To all the Orthodox: do you know that Putin and others in the Russian government are Orthodox and go to church? They are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Putin is your brother in Christ. So when you hear bad things about him, think: he is guided by the commandments, just like you. Can he be dishonest? And those who slander him are most often neither Orthodox, nor live according to the commandments, they may even be atheists, Satanists, Zionites, pagans. What do you think: in this situation, who is lying?
Beryl Lauryl Anderson6/3/2023 5:39 am
Karlos - anathema
Carlos6/2/2023 10:45 pm
To all Russians reading this comment. I know that you have a bad image of Catholicism in general, because of a Europe that attacks you, but I would like you to see the support that Latino Catholics give to all migrants and soften your hearts. Despite the schism, there is no need to antagonize us. I am sure that if there were more dialogue between us, we would find that we have a lot in common. Many of our traditions are reminiscent of the times before the Schism.
David6/2/2023 2:59 am
Jason: It is no different than Americans who fled to Canada to escape the draft. Some choose exile rather than violate their conscience. Others no doubt were chasing "the American Dream." I think given the amount of deception and propaganda coming from Moscow and Washington, the better course is to pray and be Christian in our own contexts. The Litanies during the Liturgy say everything that needs to be said.
Max6/1/2023 8:58 pm
Jason, leaving all politics aside, it sounds like they didn't want the possibility of being called up to serve.
Jason Th6/1/2023 1:10 pm
I thought Russia was Paradise? Why do they want to come to the evil USA
David5/31/2023 10:23 am
May the Mother of God help these people, and soften hearts.
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