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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Why are we concerned about the future?
Why do we protect Earth and all her creatures?
Why is our vision so wide?
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
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.