From Clare Horn, SHM Extended Family and Mary Lang, RSHM
The Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary’s Vision Statement calls each of us to listen to the heartbeat of Jesus Christ, whom we encounter personally and as a community…. (RSHM General Chapter, 2019). As volunteers, we tried to carry out this mandate at the US southern border.
At La Frontera Humanitarian Respite Center and at the Mexico – U.S. border in Laredo, Texas we welcomed, listened to, and heard the heartbeat of Jesus in the immigrants, many of whom are asylum seekers. We shared with all Areas of the Institute the tragic stories of our sisters and brothers who left their homelands to escape exploitation, kidnapping, human trafficking, and death. You all were with us on the long hot days and evenings as we listened to the immigrants’ stories, their fears for the safety and well-being of themselves and their families, and their decision to leave everything and flee their homeland. With you, we offered words of comfort and hope and provided food, clothing, and shelter.
Last Tuesday, June 22, Becky Solloa, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, Laredo, Texas surprised the volunteers with an invitation to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant in appreciation for our service. Bishop James Tamayo, the first and current diocesan Bishop of Laredo, Texas joined us. We were struck by his friendliness, humility, and simplicity in relating his own family history, as the son of a Mexican immigrant father. As a frequent visitor to La Frontera, he told us the shelter could not have continued without the help of the sisters and other lay volunteers, both local and out of state. He moved from table to table to meet each of us and listen to our experiences at La Frontera. If only other US dioceses would be blessed with such a pastoral bishop!
During our two week stay, we worked alongside local ‘community service’ workers, laypeople, and sister volunteers who are members of the Benedictines, Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Christian Doctrine, and Ursuline communities. We came from Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington. Outstanding are three Ursulines from San Antonio, Texas, who drive several hours to volunteer at La Frontera for a week, drive back home for a week, and have repeated this routine since April.
Our role as volunteers
Our role as volunteers includes, but is not limited to, registering new arrivals, gathering identifying information about their family members and/or sponsors, and help in making travel arrangements to their final destination. We prepare and serve meals, sort donations, hand out personal hygiene items, wash linens, make beds, assist family members in finding clothing and shoes, and prepare food packets for the trip when they depart La Frontera.
Using our skills
As we volunteers worked together, we came to rely on each other to use our skills, experience, and expertise and “not hide these under a bushel basket.” Having reflected with others on the talents and gifts needed to be a good volunteer, we present the following with the hope that some who read this article will feel called to work for a time with immigrants at the southern US border or in whatever city or country they live.
- ability to work with a variety of people as a team
- flexibility and openness in trying new things
- sense of humor
- self-motivation, seeing a need and responding
- lots of patience
- caring for others despite one’s own stress in the midst of obstacles and frustrations
- adaptability to changing schedules and routines
- knowing the language of the immigrants (helpful but not essential)
- caring for yourself and knowing your limitations
- not expecting a “thank you” (but many are given)
How we were changed
When discussing how we were touched and changed in some way by our actual experiences at La Frontera we heard the following from the volunteers:
- compassion for nameless, faceless immigrants has become more ‘real’ after meeting individuals and listening to their stories and problems
- willingness to accept that our outlook regarding immigrants will change
- learning about cultures that are different from our own
- realization that we should not pre-judge people based on pre-conceived biases
- an awareness that we receive more than what we give
- seeing the resilience of people who are dealing with overwhelming problems especially women and mothers
- finding inspiration from the generosity of other volunteers and the immigrants who look out for each other
- changing our perspective in regard to our own problems when comparing them to those of the immigrants
- having a greater realization that everyone is part of the “human family”
- paying forward the kindness and words of hope that our immigrant relatives received when they arrived in the United States
Sustained by your prayers and encouragement, we were able to bring God’s tenderness, love, and hope to everyone we encountered. We have all been touched by God and transformed in these encounters enabling us to share this “fullness of Life with all.” (RSHM General Chapter, 2019)
We would not have been able to do any of this without each of you.
We are grateful to Catholic Charities USA, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) for their outreach, and the RSHM, especially Eastern America Area Leadership Team for the opportunity to serve the needs of the immigrants in Laredo, Texas.