Sister Norma Pimentel is the Executive Director for Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, Texas.
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Remembering Pope Francis’ Prayer for Migrants a Year After His Visit to U.S.-Mexico Border
One year ago, Pope Francis visited the Mexican-U.S. border and prayed for migrants who have lost their lives seeking refuge in our country. His prayer transcended the dusty fences and united two countries in a silent cry for mercy on behalf of our brothers and sisters who died on their journey.
The Holy Family Arrives at the Border
THE FAMILIES arriving at the Sacred Heart Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, all come with one thing in common—a high sense of hope and faith in God. Much like the Holy Family, these families were forced to flee because they feared for the lives of their children.
Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley began a humanitarian crisis-relief program in the summer of 2014 to respond to the influx of immigrants crossing the border who didn’t have a place to rest. Many are fleeing the violence in Central America. In El Salvador, for example, the murder rate has more than doubled since 2012 and soon will pass that of Honduras, which has the highest murder rate per capita in the world.
With the help of Sacred Heart Catholic Church and hundreds of volunteers, we were able to open a place of safety for refugees before they continue on their journey. For these holy families, it is the love for their children that moves them to face all possible dangers by traveling north.
In the biblical story, St. Joseph was a “just man” and faithful. He was forewarned of Herod’s imperial violence and fled the country to protect his wife and infant son. At our center the fathers are also men of profound dedication and attentiveness to the needs of their families.
One young dad had left his home in Central America with his pregnant wife and their two little girls. His wife gave birth in Mexico. As they prepared to cross the Rio Grande into the U.S., he and the baby became separated from his wife and two daughters. He lost them. When he and the 1-month-old baby arrived at our center, he had no idea if his wife and two little girls were alive or if he would ever see them again.
Faith in Action in the Rio Grande Valley
The families arrive at the center after having traveled for weeks. Their bodies are completely filthy dirty. Their clothing and shoes have a darkened, grey, muddy appearance. In some cases, their clothing is still wet from having crossed the Rio Grande River. Since June of last year, large groups of refugees, mostly mothers with a child or two, walk through the door of the Humanitarian Respite Center at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas, their faces full of joyful tears as they experience the warm and welcoming faces of the many volunteers applauding, shouting out, “Bienvenidos!” “Welcome!”
The refugee families just spent several days at the Border Patrol Processing Station – the “Hielera” – the “Ice Box” as the refugees call it, because it is freezing there. While in this processing facility, the refugees are kept in cells, where they wait fearfully for what is to become of them.