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Faces of the Children

This spring, I was privileged to travel to McAllen, Texas with four other sisters of the Congregation of St. Joseph, where we served asylum seekers at the Humanitarian Respite Center of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

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Sisters Mary Jo Curtsinger, Marianne Race, Mary Pung,
Jackie Schmitz and Rita Ann Teichman when they arrived in Texas

This facility serves parents with minor children approved to enter the U.S. to await asylum hearings, but who haven’t yet acquired their air or bus tickets to travel to their families or sponsors. We were a small part of a team of women religious and lay volunteers who have responded to the call to come and help with a wide range of hospitality needs. The five of us spent most of our time either outfitting each family with a clean set of donated clothing, or supplying them toiletries, cough drops, diapers and formula. Along the way we used our minimal Spanish and our increasingly creative sign language to communicate a bit back and forth.

Mary Pung and Rita Ann.Sorting Clothes

I think I can speak for all of us sisters in saying that we are still unpacking the experience. In many ways we have more questions than answers. What we do know is that these families went to a lot of trouble to get to McAllen from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and other countries. Sometimes we actually learned details of the hardship or terror that forced them to flee their homes, with children in arms, and some with babes about to be born.

Sister Erin McDonald, CSJ also served at the border in El Paso, just returning in the past week. We all hope to share more of our experience in coming months. Some of us are now in the process of working with grassroots organizers at places like NETWORK, the Catholic Social Justice Lobby, in preparing to testify to members of our congressional delegations.

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Sister Erin McDonald during her time in El Paso.

Truth be told, one of my favorite moments was when I presented this little guy with a pair of spider socks to go with the new Spiderman shirt he had just put on. His parents looked exhausted but we three laughed with delight at the speed with which he discarded his old socks and put on the spiders.

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For me and I believe the rest, what sticks with me are the faces of the children.

Isn’t it true that connecting with children is often connecting with joy, hope, simplicity, ingenuity…magic? But it’s more, right?

I keep thinking of lyrics of a song by Sister Kathy Sherman, CSJ, especially these:

Why do we bless the children?

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Why are we concerned about the future?

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Why do we protect Earth and all her creatures?

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Why is our vision so wide?

Jackie S..kids

The answer is in the refrain:

Because we love God.
Because we love God and all that belongs to God.
Because we love God, we are who we are, and we do what we do.

What might we find if we dare to take a long, loving gaze into the faces of children? Would we see ourselves reflected back? Would we be reminded that the future is theirs, but ours to protect? Would we see the face of God? If you would like to sit with and reflect on this awhile longer, consider watching this video, inspired by one of Sister Kathy’s songs. Maybe it will help you, as it does me, to keep who we are as human beings and what we do in service of God and each other, in the forefront of our minds.

About the Author

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Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger, CSJ, D.Min., completed her doctoral thesis-project at Catholic Theological Union (2018), entitled Truly Sisters: Catholic and Muslim Women Walking in Solidarity on the Path to Interfaith Leadership. She is pictured here sorting clothes at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas.

18 thoughts on “Faces of the Children

  1. Mary Pung says:

    Mary Jo I am inspired to continue to reflect on our ..time together and our service to those seeking asylum. I pray for those who continue to travel to our border. Sometimes I wonder if these families will be granted legal status here or will they b deported/ So many to pay for.

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  2. sr. betsy meagher, CSJ says:

    Thank you for your witness along with others to the face of Christ among those who are desperate and in such dire need of compassion & care.

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  3. Mel Kupchik says:

    Beautiful, Sister Mary Jo! This is a striking example of loving the dear neighbor without distinction. The CSJs model living the Gospel message everyday. You are a blessing to all whom you serve and to all who know you! 🙏💖

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  4. Maria Hill says:

    Thanks, Mary Jo, for sharing your experience at the border and focusing on the children, beautiful children–all. I loved your words; I loved the pictures, I love your energy and that of your companions, that promises to continue to work toward a future with a vision of justice and a world moving toward being one. And thanks for introducing me to the video of the Faces of Children. I have heard the song, of course, but I had never seen that video.

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  5. Kathy Jeffers says:

    I’ve prayed with your blog this morning. You bring a reality to those of us unable to physically travel to serve with you at the border. Thank you for writing this “We are All One” witness for us readers. Time we’ll spent.

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  6. Bev Payne says:

    I enjoyed your thoughtful account of the trip you sisters made this summer. So much “WE” all need to help build awareness . (my shout out to “Faces of the Children”) Great insight from you sisters and your encompassing dedication to the many causes on this earth!

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  7. Mary Porod says:

    Hi Sr. Mary Jo! So happy to see that the work at the border continues. Thank you for shining the light of love on it. I was privileged to accompany a small group from St. Leonard Parish to McAllen almost three years ago. I, too, spent time in the clothing room. We were at the old center and were definitely more space crunched, but it was the same experience. I, too, have limited Spanish but our group, and the other volunteers, all made it work, which is testimony to God’s presence in that place. God bless Sr. Norma and the staff at the Humanitarian Respite Center, and God bless the Sisters of St. Joseph for bringing this experience to the wider world. It was great to see the pictures, and warmed my heart to see the little boy with the spider socks! Children are the same the world over! And you are so right, they are our future but we must protect theirs!
    Thanks so much for sharing this.

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