Wednesday, June 26, 2019, #2

“No worst, there is none”

Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, from El Salvador, died together on Sunday as they tried to swim across the Rio Grande river between Mexico and the United States.

They were crossing from Mexico into Texas near Brownsville.

They actually had made it to the Texas side initially, and Martinez placed his child there before turning around to get his wife, a journalist says. (link)

But when Angie Valeria saw her father swimming away, she jumped in after him, Julia Le Duc, the photographer who captured the image of the pair, told CNN en Español today.

The father clung to the little girl in red pants and black shoes, but a strong current swept over and drowned them, Le Duc wrote for Mexican newspaper La Jornada.

The newspaper talked to the man’s widow, Tania, who said she saw her husband and child carried away Sunday.

Their bodies were found Monday on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, near Matamoros, across the river from Brownsville.

The photo of the two of lying face down by the bank of the river was circulated today in Italy, and became the talk of the country.

The little girl’s arm is still embracing her father’s neck.

They appear to be wearing the same tee-shirt. Evidently the father tried to ensure his daughter’s safety by placing her next to him, inside his own tee-shirt, as they started across the river.

Pope Francis saw the photo. “The Pope is deeply saddened by their death, he prays for them and for all the migrants who have lost their lives trying to escape war and misery,” the Osservatore Romano wrote.

Photo credit: family photo

I was particularly moved because 21 years ago, on a vacation trip to New Mexico, I brought my two young sons with me into the same Rio Grande river and jokingly said to them, “Let’s swim to the other side.”

It was late summer, and the river was quite low, and it is not very wide in New Mexico, only about 30 feet or so. But the water was still coursing quite strongly through a slightly deeper part close to the Mexico side, so the first 20 feet were easy, but the last 10 feet were much deeper, and the water flowed much more swiftly.

Christopher was 8, and Luke was 4. Christopher knew how to swim, but Luke did not.

We went out into the water, and I held Luke tightly, but I told Christopher to swim for the other side. And then I saw that he was being swept away by the current.

“Fool,” I shouted to myself, and dived after him, still holding Luke. With my last ounce of strength, I stretched out my hand to his foot, and grabbed it. But as I tried to pull him in, I lost Luke for a moment.

As Luke began to be swept way, I tossed Christopher into shallow water and dived after Luke. He was almost out of my reach, in the fast water, and I just caught up to him… and hugged him with all my strength, and I vowed never again to risk their lives on any foolish swims across any rivers or lakes, anywhere, ever…

So today, I feel consumed with sorrow for Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, and for Angie Valeria, and for her mother.

I am sure Oscar felt he could make it across the river, that all would be well, that he would be able to keep his daughter, Valeria, safe.

But it is June, and the Rio Grande is much wider there in Texas, and he must have realized at a certain moment that the water was too strong, too deep.

And that moment of sorrow and despair that he must have felt when he knew he could not make it, that moment I almost had to feel had I not been blessed to catch my sons before they were swept away from me, that sorrow and despair is what I grieve over.

May the Lord receive them both, and comfort their loved ones.

May eternal light shine upon them.

May all of us re-dedicate ourselves to building a world where no fathers and daughters are tempted to risk a swim across a river to find a better life, where all of us together build such a better life, for each other, in this beautiful world God has given us to share.

May Oscar and Angie Valeria rest in eternal peace.

Above, photos of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, who died on June 23, Sunday, as they tried to swim across the Rio Grande river between Mexico and the United States Photo Credits: Family Photo/Julia Le Duc AP


Here is the article from today’s Osservatore Romano, the Holy See’s semi-official newspaper, which gives the Vatican’s and the Pope’s perspective on the news of the day.

The Osservatore Romano: The Pope’s Pain and Prayer in front of the Heartbreaking Photo of a Father Drowned with His Daughter in the Rio Grande. Immense Sadness


By The Osservatore Romano

They lie face down, their faces and semi-submerged bodies in the murky water of the Rio Grande.

They are tight in the same shirt, perhaps the father’s attempt not to lose his daughter during the crossing of the river that separates Mexico from the United States.

The child still has an arm around her father’s neck.

The harrowing photo taken by the AP reporter, Julia Le Duc, shows one more of the many tragedies of immigration.

An image that is a punch in the stomach and that, like that of the body of little Alan Kurdi, on the beach of Bodrum, in Turkey, is and moving and causing indignation around the world, and in particular the United States, where criticism is becoming more bitter every day against President Donald Trump for his immigration policy, including insistence on building a controversial wall on the Mexican border.

The man, according to reports in the US media, was named Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and was 26 years old.

He came from El Salvador and more than two months ago he had asked for asylum from the US authorities.

Tired of waiting for a reply that perhaps would never have come, desperate, on Sunday he tried to cross the river and enter Brownsville, Texas, with his wife Tania Vanessa Ávalos and little Valeria, 23 months old.

A crossing that was unfortunately fatal for him and the child.

The photo that portrays them in that last embrace is now destined to become the symbol of the drama that is taking place along that border; an unequivocal denunciation of the consequences of the drastic policies of border closure, of non-acceptance.

And as happened after the publication of another image — that of the small Yanela in tears while her mother was searched by the border police, which helped to at least make a partial review of the rules on the separation of migrant families — it is hoped that the photo of Valeria and of the father moves public opinion, pushing the administration to loosen a grip that in recent months has become increasingly tight.

And that continues to make victims.

Because this is not the last tragedy reported today along that border.

The bodies of a young woman, two children and a newborn were just found in the Rio Grande Valley.

According to authorities, the victims, originally from Guatemala, probably died from dehydration and exposure to excessive heat.

However, for now the reactions only come from the media, because the authorities are silent.

A silence broken only in the halls of Congress, where there is no sign of diminishing polemics, with the House Democratic majority voting to allocate $4.5 billion dollars to alleviate the humanitarian crisis on the southern border and the White House already ready to veto the bill if it also passes the Senate.

And this while the head of the federal agency that manages the camps on the border with Mexico, those where children separated from families who illegally enter the US are detained, is forced to announce his resignation, after a group of lawyers denounced the terrible conditions in which these children are forced to live.

The Holy Father saw, with immense sadness, the image of his father and his child drowned in the Rio Grande as they tried to cross the border between Mexico and the United States. The Pope is deeply saddened by their death, he prays for them and for all the migrants who have lost their lives trying to escape war and misery.

(L’Osservatore Romano, 26-27 June 2019)


And here is a statement from the US Bishops’ Conference, also today.

U.S. Bishops’ President and Committee Chairman Say Horrific Death of Father and Daughter at Border and Appalling Conditions for Children are Cries that Reach Heaven Itself

By the USCCB

The cry of a father and his baby daughter who drowned crossing the Rio Grande reaches heaven itself.

This unspeakable consequence of a failed immigration system, together with growing reports of inhumane conditions for children in the custody of the federal government at the border, shock the conscience and demand immediate action.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, joins Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, in calling on the federal government to hear the cry of the poor and vulnerable.

Their joint statement follows:

“We join with our Holy Father Pope Francis in immense sadness, having seen the horrific images of Oscar Martinez and his daughter Angie Valeria who drowned in the Rio Grande Valley while attempting to flee persecution and enter the United States. This image cries to heaven for justice. This image silences politics. Who can look on this picture and not see the results of the failures of all of us to find a humane and just solution to the immigration crisis? Sadly, this picture shows the daily plight of our brothers and sisters. Not only does their cry reach heaven. It reaches us. And it must now reach our federal government.

“All people, regardless of their country of origin or legal status, are made in the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect. Recent reports of overcrowded and unsanitary conditions are appalling and unacceptable for any person in U.S. custody, but particularly for children, who are uniquely vulnerable. Such conditions cannot be used as tools of deterrence. We can and must remain a country that provides refuge for children and families fleeing violence, persecution, and acute poverty.

“Congress has a duty to provide additional funding to address the needs of children in federal custody. Their supplemental appropriations bill should also increase protections for immigrant children, including heightened standards and oversight for border facilities. It is possible and necessary to care for the safety of migrant children and the security of our citizens. By putting aside partisan interests, a nation as great as ours is able to do both.”


And here is a poem by the British Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins(1844-1889), that came to my mind as I looked at the photograph of a father and his daughter, face down in the water, dead of drowning in the Rio Grande.

“No worst, there is none”

By Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief, 

More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring. 

Comforter, where, where is your comforting? 

Mary, mother of us, where is your relief? 

My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief 

Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old anvil wince and sing — 

Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling- 

ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief.”‘

  O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall 

Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap 

May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small 

Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep, 

Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all 

Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

(end, Gerard Manley Hopkins poem)

And here is a short reflection on the poem.

A Short Analysis of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘No Worst, There Is None’

October 17, 2017

A commentary on one of Hopkins’s ‘Terrible Sonnets’ (link)

By Dr. Oliver Tearle, Lecturer in Englsih at Loughborough University

‘No Worst, There Is None’ is one of a group of sonnets the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) wrote when he was suffering from depression in the 1880s, while living in Ireland.

These are known as the ‘Terrible Sonnets’ because of the terrible fits of misery and despair which inspired them, and which they so brilliantly capture. (…)

When we are in the grip of despair, such helpless and deep depression outstrips even the heartbreak and grief of losing a loved one.

To paraphrase the poem: ‘There is no point at which this depression stops and I can say “this is the worst point – it won’t get any worse than this.”

‘Thrown past the point of grief, more sharp twitches of pain, seemingly having learned how to inflict pain on me by watching what previous waves of pain did to me, will twist my body and soul more wildly yet. Comforter, why do you not comfort me? Virgin Mary, why do you not lessen this pain?’

The second quatrain continues this cry of woe: ‘My cries of pain heave like the waves of the sea, sounding like the cries not of one man but of whole herds of cattle stretched out in a line – and yet these cries are all focused on the “chief woe” that is “world-sorrow”, the general feeling of sadness we feel at existing in a world so full of pain and suffering. It’s like being on an anvil and being hammered on continually, causing me to wince and cry out with the pain – although the pain does subside eventually, if only for a while. It’s as if Fury had commanded the pain to attack quickly without “lingering”.’

In the sonnet’s sestet Hopkins considers the mind of the depressed person: ‘It’s as if the mind has vast mountains, off the edge of which we can tumble into black pits of depression – mountains so mighty that no man ever fell from them and lived to tell the tale. People who have never known such dark depression hold this “cheap”, and don’t realise how bad it is, as they’ve never experienced it. And in the small time we are alive for, that small “durance”, we cannot deal with such steep cliffs of depression and learn how to overcome them. All the wretched sufferer can do is creep under whatever comfort he can find and cling to it, like a man sheltering under something during a storm; and the comfort on offer is the knowledge that life ends in death, and each day dies when we go to sleep.’


Like many great poets, Hopkin’s language wrong-foots us at times, as in that opening statement. ‘No worst, there is none.’

This is often paraphrased as ‘there’s nothing worse than this feeling of depression’, but Hopkins did not write ‘worse’ but the superlative, ‘worst’:not just ‘there is nothing worse than this’ but ‘there is no worst to this’, no end-point where such depression seems to end.

This paves the way for that cliff-imagery in the poem’s sestet (this sonnet follows the Petrarchan rhyme scheme and form), which call to mind a man tumbling from a cliff-top and far into the depths below, with the horrible twist that he never seems to reach the bottom of the pit with a thud – he just keeps on plummeting.

Note also how the word ‘lingering’ itself lingers thanks to being stretched out over two lines: was enjambment ever put to more literal and effective use in a poem?

The ghost of a Shakespeare play, King Lear, may lurk behind ‘No Worst, There Is None’, and specifically Edgar’s words: ‘And worse I may be yet: the worst is not / So long as we can say “This is the worst.”’

There is no ‘worst’, Hopkins’s poem responds, confirming Edgar’s worst fears.

(end, Letter #37: “No worst, there is none”)


Where is the Catholic Church going?

Guarding the Flame: The Challenges Facing the Church in the Twenty-First Century: A Conversation With Cardinal Peter Erdő

By Robert Moynihan and Viktoria Somogyi

How will the Church face the challenges of the 21st century? Do the recent advances in modern technology pose a threat to the human soul?

In this wide-ranging, candid conversation, Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Budapest, Hungary, one of the most respected cardinals in the Catholic Church, speaks with Dr. Robert Moynihan, founder and editor of Inside the Vatican magazine, about the Catholic Church’s place in an increasingly secularized world.

As the two-time president of the Council of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe, Erdő is the leading bishop of Europe. And as Europe has descended into a deep secularism—more pronounced and rapid even than in the United States—Erdő is uniquely positioned and qualified to identify and tackle the issues that secularism presents.

Here, for the first time in in one place, the cardinal speaks forthrightly about the need to “guard the flame” of the traditional Christian faith in the face of all temptations and obstacles. Guarding the Flame is a courageous call to remain faithful to the faith handed down from the Apostles, whatever the cost.

Guarding the Flame: A Conversation with Cardinal Peter Erdo

A book containing several days of interviews I conducted with Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary has just been published by TAN (Thomas A. Nelson) Books, which specializes in the important work of reprinting traditional Catholic works now out of print. To purchase a copy of my new book with Cardinal Erdo, you may do one of three things:

(1) Go to the publisher’s website (link)

(2) Go to the Amazon website and order the book there: (link)

(3) Write back to me by return email, including a complete mailing address and phone number, tell me how many copies you would like, and I will send you one or more signed copies at the cover price of $27.95, plus shipping and handling (about $5 inside the US, but considerably more, up to $26 or more, outside of the US).—RM




Special Note to Readers: Consider sponsoring the Moynihan Letters as the need for an independent view (my view) on events in the Church is becoming increasingly important, as today’s news shows (here is a link to the donation page: link). Your support is the only way I can stay independent. A monthly donation of even just $2.50 — a cup of coffee — would be deeply appreciated, and helpful. —RM

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