New center shows church's ongoing commitment to immigrants, says bishop

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Charities

By Rose Ybarra

MCALLEN, Texas (CNS) — Blessing
the ground for a new respite center in McAllen is a sign of the Catholic Church’s
commitment to be available and helpful to immigrant families, who “are enduring
many, many tragic situations in their lives,” said Brownsville Bishop Daniel E.

“It’s the work of the church
to be a presence and to make available a space for people to feel welcome,
where people can be attended to and dealt with in their humanity,” the bishop said
Dec. 1. “People are not statistics, people are not just numbers, people are not
problems, ultimately, people are people.”

Catholic Charities of the
Rio Grande Valley hosted the ground-blessing ceremony for its new respite center.

Bishop Flores conducted
the blessing. He was joined at the ceremony by Sister Norma Pimentel, a member
of the Missionaries of Jesus, who is executive director of Catholic Charities
of the Rio Grande Valley in the Brownsville Diocese, and McAllen Mayor Jim

All three expressed their
gratitude to Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, its pastoral team and parishioners for their generosity
in housing the current respite center for the last two-and-a-half years.

“God asked the church
especially to be a sign of his love by continuing to open up a space where our
service to one another can be manifested,” the bishop said.

“The (Rio Grande) Valley
is one of the poorest areas in the whole United States and yet, they share the
little that they have to make sure that someone who has less will be able to
have something that they need,” Sister Pimentel said in her remarks.

of that sacrifice, we have been able to help so many thousands and thousands of
immigrant families,” she continued. “And so today is a very special day because it marks the
continuation of this act of kindness, compassion and love.”

She thanked the city of
McAllen, Catholic Charities and “the thousands of volunteers who have taken
part and continue to take part to show the world that we are a community with
compassion and with a heart.”

Darling in his remarks
noted the recent “rhetoric about sanctuary cities in the media,” and pointed out
that those who receive assistance at the respite center, “are here as legally
as you and I.”

The immigrants, who are
mostly from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, are in the legal process of
seeking asylum or residency.

“I keep hearing in the
press that it’s an illegal immigrant situation,” he said, but “it’s people
seeking asylum.”

“We have received a lot
of kind of negative publicity over the last two and half years alluding to an
unsafe border, the need to protect the border, those kinds of things,” Darling
added, “but really what you’re seeing is the spirit of McAllen and the Catholic
Church helping people in need who are here; many times for reasons we can’t
even fathom what they have gone through.”

In June 2014, Sister Pimentel
heard there were immigrant families huddled at the bus station in downtown
McAllen with only the clothes on their back, nothing to eat or drink and nowhere
to shower or sleep. The families had been detained by U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement, released with a court date and dropped off at the bus
station with permission to continue to their final destinations.

Sister Pimentel opened the
respite center in the parish hall of Sacred Heart Church, located just two
blocks away from the bus station, to provide food, clean clothing, showers,
medical attention, supplies for the road, phone calls, overnight lodging and
more for the immigrants.

More than 57,000 immigrants have
passed through the center.

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Ybarra is assistant editor at The
Valley Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Brownsville.

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