Day three of our journey. It truly is a whirlwind adventure. The day starts early with morning mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan. It's a short walk from the hotel to the Basilica and it's the coolest and most beautiful time of the day. Today is the Feast of Saint Lawrence - he of "Turn me over, I'm done on this side" fame and the patron saint of comedians and cooks (look it up if you don't get the reference, it's worth the read).
After a great breakfast (again Chorizo tacos) and many cups of coffee, we meet up with Sr. Norma Pimentel, the Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, a Sister of the Missionaries of Jesus and the Mother Teresa of McCallan, TX. We have been hearing about Sr. Norma as we prepared for the trip as well as from everyone we've met here. It's almost hard for me to believe that anyone can live up to the build-up she's received but she certainly does. There is nothing brash or sensational about her, in fact, her demeanor is the epitome of calm. Jen described her this way. “I was impressed by this sense of freedom that Sr. Norma had. She is living exactly as she should live and moves through what she needs to live effortlessly. Whether it's spending time with volunteers, immigrants or on a conference call looking for funding to support her work."
Our time with Sr. Norma was incredibly informative. She isn't happy with the political climate - but that's true of every administration since 2001. "Some administrations are blatant while others have provided lip-service to the plight of immigrants but none have addressed the root causes." I had a chance to ask her what she would say the root cause is that makes people feel they must uproot themselves and walk hundreds (if not thousands) of miles in search of a better life. "Violence. Gang violence."
Just three weeks ago Sr. Norma and Catholic Charities of RGV were instrumental in reuniting hundreds of children who were separated from their parents. "All these families who were separated we gave them cell phones - over 500 phones - so we can keep in contact with them and they have someone they can contact...I get calls from them."
We visited a section of the existing wall that cuts through Hidalgo Park - a beautiful park that has been around for over a hundred years and whose landscape has been changed (hopefully not forever) by the presence of a foreboding steel wall. About a mile beyond the wall is the actual border with Mexico - the Rio Grande River. Where we visited the river it looks calm and peaceful but Sr. Norma explained that looks are deceiving. The currents below the surface are much faster and cause many fatalities each year. There is a special project that is dedicated to giving name to the men and women who have died while trying to cross the river.
As Sr. Norma speaks to us, it is evident where she gets her strength - her faith is exposed for all to see. Even as we break bread with her at a local taco eatery "Palanque Taco" it is also evident what the impact she has on the community. She is treated with reverence by the people - some because she has worked with them but most because of who she is and what she is doing to raise up all people and help them embrace their dignity. As Patrick put it "A stranger approached Sr. Norma just to thank her. For a stranger to take the time to approach and thank, hug and cry shows a lot of the magnitude and impact that Sr. Norma has in her community. It shows how much of a mover of mountains she is."
When it is time to part from Sr. Norma so we can spend the rest of the day volunteering at the Respite Center she runs she leaves us feeling blessed. She is also a good sport as most of us take 'selfies' in the fast food eatery. I haven't walked the road with many saints in my life but I can say with confidence that Sr. Norma is doing the work of a saint and is living out the example of Matthew 25: 35-40 for everyone she comes in contact with.
The work at the Respite Center was as chaotic, stressful and joyful as the prior days but understanding the flow of the day allowed us to serve with purpose and be 'intentional' in our service.
I'll end with just a few quick stories from our team's experiences at the Respite Center today. Each is a blog post unto itself but I'll keep it very brief.
Mary Beth worked in the 'Clothes Closet' where each individual is provided new undergarments and some donated clothes and shoes. As she put it, "a surprise was working in the clothes closet. The numbers were astounding. I found it important that these young boys and girls and their parents look good and match. It goes back to human dignity - you can’t go around with mismatched clothes!"
Laurie and Jose commented on the plight of the immigrant. “The people trying to cross are coming from many different countries. They don’t see justice or injustice…they may pass through many countries but when they get to our border they don’t understand," said Laurie. Jose added “These people are fleeing to the 'land of the free'. Think about that."
Finally, Carmen had a special experience with a young girl and her father. “There was a father with a blind daughter. I didn’t even realize she was blind. It was a special time helping her get ready. I was moved when her father asked me if I would do her hair. She was so happy to have me help her. It was a special moment. As wonderful as it was to be able to help, I had to wonder 'where is the mother?'”
It's been an honor sharing these experiences with you and I hope that I've been able to do justice to the blessed experiences I've had.
Peace my friends,