By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Sr Norma Pimentel is the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas near the US/Mexico border. Her day is filled with welcoming and providing for the needs of immigrants released from detention. In an interview with Vatican News, she reveals the source of her energy as she touches the suffering endured by so many brothers and sisters in their journey to a new life.
6 US Bishops visited the Humanitarian Respite Center overseen by Sr Norma along with her staff and volunteers. She said she appreciates their visit which manifests the presence of the Church. Regarding the Bishops, she says it was an opportunity to visit and be involved in efforts being made “on the ground”.
It was wonderful to see them involved and interested in wanting to get to know the families and having an opportunity to chat and sit down with them and just talk in a relaxed way.
In a July 12 press release, the US Bishops stated “[we] are lending our experience and expertise to support Catholic Charities agencies in their efforts to reunite families and care for immigrant children”. Sr Norma told us that busloads of families separated at the border arrive daily. Catholic Charities provides round-the-clock immediate humanitarian aid:
We are giving them the opportunity to rest, to sleep, to eat, to take a shower, to get cleaned up, to connect them with their families, and to put them in the direction where they will be continuing their immigration process.
While providing for their physical needs, Sr Norma also witnesses the joy as families are reunited, and listens to the suffering endured during the time they were separated.
It’s an incredible experience to be able to be present with these families who have suffered so much, experienced losing their child, not knowing if they would ever see their child again, and children crying – and then, all of a sudden together – and experiencing that moment of joy and grace that God has brought them together. That we’re part of that – it’s magnificent!
What helps Sr Norma and her team keep going?
Sr Norma is not alone. Local priests, families, volunteers and staff form her team. “Together we’re able to respond as a Church, as a People of God”, she says. It’s a total commitment.
You see the hardship that they’ve been through – the pain and suffering – you’re moved to want to make sure you do everything you can to help them…. That’s what energizes us. That’s what gives us the desire to do more, even though we end up super tired and exhausted.
Numbers are overwhelming
The immigrants “are being released in great numbers”, Sr Norma continues, to the point that it gets overwhelming providing for everyone’s needs.
Like this morning, we had to feed 300 people breakfast. And so, going out and getting what we need, to make sure we have enough, to make them a breakfast taco.
Share the Journey campaign
Along with other organizations connected to Caritas Internationalis, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley is participating in the Share the Journey Campaign. Sr Norma explained how their direct work with migrants at the Respite Center and other welcoming centers provides an opportunity for others to meet immigrants and hear their stories.
We are receiving so many groups from up north and throughout the United States who become aware of what is happening with the separation of the children, and now the reunification … and they want to be part of it. Providing that opportunity for every family, every group from different churches, and different schools, coming and being part of this experience is wonderful. That’s how I believe we can continue this Share the Journey experience…the encounter of getting to know an immigrant and understanding the reasons why they’re fleeing from their country.