For many migrants trekking to the U.S., faith is their compass

TIJUANA, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Since setting out from Honduras in the hope of reaching the United States, Nicolas Alonso Sanchez has worn a simple wooden cross around his neck – a quiet reminder of the Roman Catholic faith that propels him forward.

"God gave me the strength to get all the way here," Sanchez, 47, says at a temporary shelter where he is staying in the Mexican border city of Tijuana.

On the long journey from Central America to U.S. soil, many migrants have taken solace in their religion.

Several 'caravans' of mostly Honduran migrants who made the trek in 2018 faced arduous conditions, braving fierce heat by day and searching for a safe place to sleep at night.

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Migrants trekking to the United States rely on faith
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Migrants trekking to the United States rely on faith

Pastor Jose Murcia, 47, preaches to migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America traveling to the U.S., outside a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico November 24, 2018.

(REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

Nicolas Alonso Sanchez, 47, from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands of migrants from Central America traveling to the U.S., poses for a picture as he holds a cross at a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico November 24, 2018. "God helped me and gave me the strength, helped me to make my dreams come true. God gave me all the strength to get all the way here," Sanchez said. 

(REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America traveling to the U.S., pray before food distribution outside a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico December 1, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

Juan Francisco, 25, from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands of migrants from Central America traveling to the U.S., shows his tattoo of the 23rd Psalm of the Book of Psalms as he poses for a picture outside a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico November 26, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

Victor Alfonso, 29, from Guatemala, part of a caravan of thousands of migrants from Central America traveling to the U.S., poses for a picture as he wears charms depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe at a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico November 26, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

David Amador, 25, from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands of migrants from Central America traveling to the U.S., poses for a picture as he holds a cross at a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico November 28, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America traveling to the U.S., raise their hands while praying before moving by buses to a new shelter, in Tijuana, Mexico November 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

A migrant, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America traveling to the U.S., is wrapped with a banner depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe in front of a riot police cordon, as migrants try to reach the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico in Tijuana, Mexico November 25, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

Herso, 17, from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands of migrants from Central America traveling to the U.S., poses for a picture as he wears a t-shirt depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe outside a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico November 24, 2018.

(REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

A booklet of Psalm 119:105 is left on a self-made tent at a temporary shelter of a caravan of thousands of migrants from Central America traveling to the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico November 27, 2018.

(REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

Migrants, part of a caravan from El Salvador traveling to the U.S., pray as they are blocked by the Mexican police during an operation to detain them for entering the country illegally, in Metapa, Mexico November 21, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America traveling to the U.S., raise their hands as they listen to the preaching of pastor Jose Murcia (not pictured) outside a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico November 24, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

A migrant, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America traveling to the U.S., sleeps with a book in Spanish "What does the Bible teach us?" in a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico November 24, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

A writing "Jesus Christ is the Lord" is seen on a car window outside a temporary shelter for a caravan of thousands of migrants from Central America traveling to the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico November 24, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

Elmer, 29, from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands of migrants from Central America traveling to the U.S., poses for a picture as he holds an icon depicting Jesus Christ and the Virgin of Guadalupe while lining up for food distribution outside a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico November 24, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

Juan Francisco, 25, from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands of migrants from Central America traveling to the U.S., shows his tattoo reading "I can do everything with Christ who strengthens me" as he poses for a picture outside a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico November 26, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

An image of the Virgin of Guadalupe is seen in a tent of migrants part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, on a street in Tijuana, Mexico, December 15, 2018.

(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

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Many regard their faith as their compass.

For migrants far from home, the street often becomes their place of worship. On a warm afternoon in late November, pastor Jose Murcia, a Salvadoran who lives in the United States, preaches outside a temporary shelter in Tijuana to a cluster of men.

Later, Murcia joins a pair of men kneeling in the middle of the road, their heads bowed in prayer.

On their way to the U.S. border, the migrants walked the length of Mexico. Here, the Virgin of Guadalupe - an image of the Virgin Mary who devotees believe appeared to an indigenous man in the 16th century - looms large. As if seeking her protection, a man drapes himself with a banner depicting her as he crouches before a phalanx of riot police in Tijuana.

The migrants face a future of uncertainty. The United States said in December that many asylum seekers may be forced to stay in Mexico while their claims are processed. Some Mexican border towns are perilous places to wait, plagued with crime and violence.

But many migrants, bolstered by their faith, say they are undaunted.

"God always takes care of me," says Osmel Efraim, an 18-year-old Honduran migrant in Tijuana. "Thanks to God, I am here, safe and healthy."

(Reporting by Alkis Konstantinidis, Writing by Julia Love, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)

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