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Edition No. 180—July 16, 2021 
Reflections from the Border
Humanitarian Respite Care Center
Laredo Texas
Border notes  July 5-13

Sister Joan Sullivan  SSJ and Sister Mary Helen Beirne SSJ
On our flight to Laredo, we sighted a rainbow out our plane window. We decided that it was a sign for our journey. During these days, we hoped to be blessed with new eyes as we experienced life with our immigrant brothers and sisters. We offer you our graced moments. 

July 6
Graced moment 
Today was our first day and we were not sure what to expect. Very soon we were working hard doing bathrooms and figuring out other ways to serve our families who would have only one day in this shelter before moving on. As we were nearly finished for the day, a tall, thin young man appeared after everyone had eaten. He seemed so hungry. We rustled up a ham and cheese sandwich and a cup of noodles which he inhaled. When offered another, he ate it as quickly. When finished, he looked up. We saw in his eyes both gratitude and gentleness—we didn’t need words.
Pondering our guest’s hunger and his thankful eyes, we considered all the hungers of life including God’s hunger for us and our hunger for God.

July 7
Graced moment 
Today we served three meals. First, it was breakfast and lunch to those who had arrived yesterday without food or rest. After completing paperwork, showering, getting fresh clothes from the used clothes room, they would gaze at the wall map of the US—seeing the distances yet to come as they prepared to continue their journey to a family, friend, or neighbor contact. In midafternoon, a new group of 60 families arrived. We served them a simple lunch of rice and a sandwich topped off with a cookie. They said it was the most delicious food they’d had. It was then we learned that most had not eaten a meal in nearly 10 days. 

Despite all that they had been through, our guests were not grabby. They were all attentive first to their little ones, then to the others with them, and then to themselves.  We pondered how often we can be grabby and impatient rather than waiting for others and for God. 

July 8
Graced moment 
The weather—torrential rains and flooding—was the challenge of today. Yet this terrible weather did not dampen the spirits and generous hearts of our immigrant sisters and brothers here in Laredo. Due to a dramatic increase in the number of arrivals (now about a 100) we had to move the dining area to the church hall across the street. Carts for lunch loaded with large hot pots of ramen noodles and platters of foil wrapped bean-filled tortillas had to be transported in pouring rain across the street to the church hall. We no sooner headed out the door when some of the young fathers jumped to help navigate the carts across the rugged terrain of the street and flooded church grounds.

Our guests' thoughtfulness and generosity taught us that language knows no barriers and love knows no bounds.

July 9
Graced moment 
The people we met each day were seeking asylum in the US and would only get it if they could prove a “credible fear.” We wondered what makes fear credible. Is it torture?  Is it starvation? Is it assault? Is it paying extortion money to the local cartel?  Is it no money for food? Is it domestic violence?  When the young father in the hallway hugged his registration papers and his little “guy” on his lap, we tried to imagine the depth of his courage. When the mother who asked for deodorant and powdered milk for her 8 month old daughter held tight to her travel money order—hope for a new beginning in Iowa, we saw the fierceness of her protecting love.  

From each person we have met here, we prayed to learn anew “Do not fear to hope—for our God sees not as we see. Look to God whose mighty hand brought forth the day from the chaos of the night.”

July 10
Graced moment
Today shoes were very important. On the way to La Frontera, we shopped at Family Dollar for necessities: 20 pairs of men’s pants, 30 deodorants, 15 pairs of children’s shoes with laces or velcro straps, and 5 men’s belts.  Soon after our arrival, a family of four stood before us needing everything: clean clothes, shower, food and personal hygiene items. We searched the clothes room and had new wares for them after their showers. The two children were shyly delighted with colorful sneakers but, alas, we had no adult shoes. The father and mother did their best to hide their disappointment. While pondering another quick run to Family Dollar, we had visitors. An older couple drove up with their SUV trunk stuffed full of marked bags of clothing including adult shoes! We were so excited to find the young parents for “shoe try-ons” after lunch.

Sometimes “ancient” prayers rise up at moments like this: “Divine Providence can provide, Divine Providence will provide, Divine Providence does provide.” 

July 11
Graced moment 
After serving two meals to our immigrant guests in the church hall, there was a Sunday pause which gave time for conversation with Becky, Director of Laredo Catholic Charities which oversees La Frontera. It became a lesson on ICE *, Border Patrol, the two International Bridges at Laredo, ACLU, and the multiple beliefs and perceptions in the US about immigration. We sat around a worn table under the Bingo sign in the church hall while many of our guests napped (children and adults) on Army cots with thin Red Cross blankets. As Becky explained succinctly interconnections of local and national policies and politics, we were challenged by the complexities.

We are reminded again that immigration is not a single issue. May we listen with an open mind and heart in conversations with all kinds of people so that we can act with charity and justice for all.
*(ICE) The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is a federal law enforcement agency under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. ICE's stated mission is to protect the United States from the cross-border crime and illegal immigration that threaten national security and public safety

July 12
Graced moment 
Tonight was our last at La Frontera and in Laredo. Laredo is so close to the border that we could see the Rio Grande from our hotel windows. This evening, we drove to the river’s edge. Standing there we tried to imagine the experiences of our sisters and brothers as they crossed over the Rio Grande into our country.  What must they have felt? Uncertainty? Joy? Fear? Hope? Sadness? As we stood on the bank of the river with our co-volunteer from Manhattan College, we prayed and sang, “peace is flowing like a river—setting all the captives free.” We deeply desired that our newly arrived sisters and brothers would find peace and healing in their lives.

As we left Laredo, the words of our Federation prayer “to be a healing presence” took on greater meaning. We prayed that we may always be both a healing presence and voice for our immigrant brothers and sisters.
Pictured from left: Joan Sullivan SSJ, Lois Harr (Manhattan College) and Mary Helen Beirne SSJ standing on the edge of the Rio Grande in Laredo, USA with  Nuevo Laredo, Mexico in the background.
Humanitarian Respite Center
McAllen, Texas 

Sister Clarisa Vazquez SSJ
When the opportunity came to help at the border, I chose to go. Having gone on mission trips to Guatemala with my parish, I knew I wanted to go to Texas with others. Soon, a group was formed. Thankfully, Sister Cecelia Cavanaugh SSJ took the lead and made all the arrangements. In preparation, we attended Zoom sessions with sisters who had served before us. From them, we learned the experience would be a challenging but was worthwhile. Most of my religious life has been spent with the poor and the past 27 years primarily using Spanish in ministry. Even with all that, I was apprehensive.
After a few days there, I realized that regardless of the Zoom meetings, I was not prepared. It did not matter that I spoke Spanish. There were so many people. The first few days were spent in the clothing room. It was one stop before the showers. It would be the migrants´ first shower in weeks. I am grateful to have traveled with a group that worked as a team. Immediately, we set up trying to match families with clothes. Those who spoke Spanish went out to meet the families and those in the clothing room to find sizes. Some went shopping as the needs arose. If and when possible, we tried bringing out two sets of clothes to give people a choice. We learned that the clothing room was the first place where our families had a choice. Trying to find the clothes and running out of them faster than our sisters could buy them, was unsettling. We kept adapting. Soon, everyone in our group tried matching families with clothes. The numbers of families grew. To see families matched with clothes they liked was a relief. To tell mothers and fathers that we had nothing in their size, and ask them to wait until someone came back from the store, was disheartening. 

The first time I was given the chance to help in the “pharmacy,” I eagerly said, “Yes.” I appreciated the change. To be given a few more minutes to engage with parents in the briefest exchange of, “Where are you from? Where are you going? May God accompany you,” was uplifting. Then the numbers grew so daunting. Simple blessings, signing the cross on the foreheads of the children, smiling with my eyes and asking God to be with them, seemed to be all that was possible. 
The spiritual and emotional challenges I faced included feeling that nothing I did was ever enough. Praise God for prayer and inspiration to remind me that my focus is on Jesus. I was there to help. Whatever I could do would be enough. The experience was like no other, but so worth it to bring some small bit of consolation. 

I like organization and do not do well with what I deem to be chaos, which includes dirt. I tried valiantly, with humor, with a teacher’s voice, anyway possible, to get the families to wait for service in order of their time to depart the Center. We tried to serve those leaving first. It worked initially, and then the drill would have to be repeated. At times, some ran in needing immediate attention because their transport was waiting. No time for a shower, but a change of clothes would be great. At the pharmacy, I would take breaks to wipe down counters, pass out wipes, clean my hands with hand sanitizer, and distribute hand sanitizer—anything to make a connection. Stopping to organize the supplies, sweep and clean up, helped me to regroup and forge ahead with the crowds. 

As I continue to process the experience, I am thankful I went. I am grateful for Cecelia Cavanaugh SSJ, Celeste Mokrcyzki SSJ, Rosemary Golden SSJ, Pat Harrington, Lisa Neuhauser, and Gloria Giordano—my border team. I am reminded of the miracle with the five loaves and two fish. I pray that those of us who have served were like a morsel of love and hope for our newly arrived sisters and brothers. For those who are concerned about not speaking Spanish, please do not worry. The heart finds ways to communicate and love is experienced and received. 
Pictured at the "Wall" from left: Cecelia J. Cavanaugh SSJ, Clarisa Vázquez SSJ, Rosemary Golden SSJ, Gloria Giordano, Celeste Mokrzycki SSJ and Pat Harrington
The Stations of the Cross and
The Plight of our Immigrant Brothers and Sisters 

Sister Clarisa Vazquez SSJ
I. Jesus is condemned to death:
Due to corruption, gangs, violence and all the circumstances that make living in their countries unsafe, our brothers and sisters are condemned to crossing the borders that lead to the USA.

II. Jesus is made to bear his cross
Crossing borders subjects our sisters and brothers to attacks, robbery of their possessions, the rape of entire families.

III. Jesus falls the first time
Families come sick and traumatized and are given ankle bracelets to wear as prisoners.

IV. Jesus meets his mother
Families arrive at centers of respite for clothes, medicines, showers, food and a mattress for sleep.

VI. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
Doctors, nurses and midwives arrive, volunteering clinical services to alleviate suffering.

VII. Jesus falls the second time
Families wait in long lines during the day for everything: food, medicine, clothes, showers, etc.

VIII. The women weep over Jesus
Volunteers affected by the suffering, have trouble sleeping, get run down and sick. Many are moved to advocacy as well as encouraging others to donate funds—to purchase more needed supplies.
IX. Jesus falls the third time
At times sponsoring families in the US cannot be reached. Supplies run out: no clothes, no medicines, limited showers, children get sick...

X. Jesus is stripped of his garments
There are some individuals desolate, sobbing, emotionally spent.  Mothers and fathers sleep on chairs while holding their children.

XI. Jesus is nailed to the cross
Certain sponsoring families fail and reject those recently arrived.

XII. Jesus dies on the cross
Many die attempting the journey. 

XIII. Jesus is taking down from the cross
The journey has affected some gravely and they must go to the hospital to receive treatment.

XIV. Jesus is placed in the tomb
Some test positive for Covid and their plans are delayed as they quarantine.

XV. Jesus is resurrected
Many leave for the bus stations and airports to experience hope for the first time.
SSJ Welcome Center
"Kensington Community Resiliency Fund" Grant!  

by Dori Costello
We are so excited and grateful to be among the first set of grantees chosen to receive a "Kensington Community Resiliency Fund" Grant!  We thank all the generous funders and the organizers who work tirelessly to empower the residents of Kensington. God is good—all the time!
Red Cross Disaster Assistance
July 12, 2021

Sister Sharon White SSJ
On Monday evening July 12, 2021 a severe storm passed over the Philadelphia and Bucks County regions. The impact of the flooding was so great that it forced many people to evacuate their place of residence. On Tuesday, Sister Sharon White SSJ joined the Red Cross Disaster Action Team in Bensalem to assist the families during this traumatic event.

Sharon is certified on two teams: Disaster Spiritual Care (DSC) and Disaster Mental Health (DMH). Providing Disaster Spiritual Care she was joined by Kevin Masturzo, from the Disaster Mental Health team. The recovery continues as the Red Cross is providing both monetary and emotional assistance to the survivors. 
Pictured from left: Sharon White SSJ and Kevin Masturzo
Year of Saint Joseph
Ryan Murphy, SSJ Associate in Mission
We, Sisters of Saint Joseph and Associates in Mission, rejoice in the proclamation of Pope Francis’ Year of Saint Joseph. In honor of our patron, the Spirituality Committee continues to offer the reflections of our sisters, Associates, and Partners in Mission. In this video, Ryan Murphy (father, Partner, and Associate in Mission) shares his reflection on fatherhood
Click here to view Ryan's reflection on fatherhood
Looking for Inspiration?
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"With the help of God's grace and in fidelity to our founder's expressed wish, we live and work lovingly among all persons with a special preference for those who are poor, which calls us wherever we are to be in union with them."
                         — SSJ Constitutions #21
Editor, Sister Carole Pollock SSJ | 215.248.7269 | |