NEW YORK — On the last day of Father Juan Luxama’s recent mission trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, he witnessed the arrival of a boat of 45 Haitian migrants, who then piled into a local Catholic shelter. Witnessing their new reality, he said, moved him.

“I’m telling you it brought tears to my eyes because that’s not the way God created us to be,” Luxama told Crux. “We’re supposed to be happy and joyful, but these people left Haiti because the situation is unbearable and they don’t have the resources that should be given to them, and they were able to escape to a different country.”

Luxama embarked on the mission trip to San Juan, sponsored by Catholic Extension, in early February. He said he was drawn to it because it involved visits to San Mateo Parish, which, led by Father Olin Pierre-Louis runs a mission for Haitian migrants that provides them with housing, social services, and general assistance transitioning to Puerto Rico.

Luxama, the parochial vicar of the Shrine Church of St. Bernadette in the Diocese of Brooklyn is a Haitian immigrant, and has family that still lives there.

“The whole reason I went on the trip was because I heard they had Haitians over there and I wanted to minister to them,” Luxama said. “I wanted to see them and give them hope, let them know that there’s somebody thinking about them.”

The situation in Haiti has worsened in recent weeks, as gangs now control about 80% of the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced his resignation. On March 28, a United Nations Human Rights Office reported that 1,554 people have been killed, and 826 injured, in Haiti in 2024 due to gang violence.

Luxama said he visited Pierre-Louis and San Mateo Parish for the first time on the second day of the trip, Feb. 8.  He said Pierre-Louis makes multiple trips a day to the docks to pick up Haitian migrants and bring them to the church.

Once they arrive, Luxama said, men stay upstairs and women stay downstairs, and Pierre-Louis provides them with everything they need for the duration of their stay.

The stories of the Haitian migrants Luxama met at the parish are a snapshot of the insecurity currently plaguing the country. He said one young man fled Haiti because his mother was kidnapped and killed, and the same people who attacked her were after him. Another young man fled because his sister was murdered, and the same people were after him. And another man fled to escape the gangs.

One thing, however, that stood out to Luxama that held true for each of the Haitian migrants he met was the joy each of them carried despite the circumstances they faced.

“It breaks my heart to see a beautiful country suffering like this for so many years and nothing be done, but make no mistake, when I was in San Juan, after the trip that these people took to San Juan, despite so much suffering, they have so much joy in life,” Luxama said.

“They’re filled with gratitude,” Luxama added. “They’re just happy despite the suffering.”

Luxama said the biggest needs right now are food, water, shelter, and security.

“The priority right now is food and shelter and security,” Luxama said. “I think that’s one of the basic things we can do for the Haitian people at this time, let them know that their loved ones are OK, that they’ve got food and shelter and are provided the security for them to be able to live daily life like normal people.”

Luxama also noted that Pierre-Louis shows another way people can help, in particular the Haitian migrants in the Diocese of Brooklyn and other American communities — by welcoming them, providing them hope, and “caring for our brothers and sisters.”

He said he now wants to instill that mindset in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

“My thing is, keep hope in the community,” Luxama said. “I want to bring the Diocese of Brooklyn to the periphery and to the rest of the world.”

Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg