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Edition No. 171— May 13, 2021 
Sister Joan Pearson SSJ
Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center
Rio Grande Valley
This Experience Opened my Heart!
I am still reflecting on my experience at the border. It was a profound experience, and I am not sure I have fully integrated all the graces and challenges God presented to me at the border—with my ministry here in our diocese. I feel that I have been changed in ways that I have not yet fully understood.

I came back here tired. And as I unpack, I move from happy memories of the good people I worked with, to tears for the stories the immigrants shared with me. The work was hard. The people were in great need. The situation was heartbreaking.

I can only talk about the McAllen Respite Center. I suppose all border centers have some aspects in common, but the brush strokes I am going to share are specific to my experience at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in the Rio Grande Valley. The people who entered this center were escorted from the border entrance by officials after being tested for COVID.They meekly entered the shelter in a single file line of 25 to 350 people. They only had their single sheet document which is their "proof" of legitimate entry through the border control.

The first thing that struck me was the lack of luggage or bags or backpacks with them. They were desperately clinging to their children. They had nothing else. I discovered why. Throughout their very dangerous journey to the United States, they had lost everything.  Some had been robbed. Others were forced to sell or trade their clothes, medals and jewelry of any kind to get to the next stop on the journey.

Most of the people who passed through the center during my time of service were from Central American countries. Judging from the hardships and dangers these good people were willing to endure I can only assume that it must be very dangerous to stay where they were. 
After they entered, we gave them a little emergency relief bag from the Red Cross with a toothbrush, soap and small washcloth. They were instructed to sit in a section and were given a number for their family. One by one they were helped (by the salaried Catholic Charities workers) to contact their family here in the U.S and arrange their transport to be united with them.  

They then lined up for food. The ladies and volunteers in the kitchen did their best despite never knowing when the next group would arrive. They always seemed to have a bowl of chicken and rice soup prepared, with extra rice and bread. The only drink I ever saw was water.

The people slept overnight on 4 inch thick blue mats that were piled up during the day then laid flat on the floor for the night. Everyone was given the opportunity to take a shower and get refreshed.  I still have no idea what they used for towels to dry. The disadvantage of this type of service is that once a volunteer is placed somewhere, they don't have an opportunity to see the other areas.  

Because I speak some Spanish I was assigned to the "Farmacia" or pharmacy area. If any of the people needed baby formula of powdered milk—we measured and distributed hundreds on a daily basis—or diapers, baby wipes, toothbrushes, combs, etc., we were always there to give them what they needed. Part of my job was to dispense the over-the-counter medications. Almost everyone came in with colds, cough, runny nose, or fever. Each time I portioned out a cough syrup or Tylenol or whatever. I asked about allergies, complications, and explained about the dosage size and frequency. And they were so patient waiting their turn and so grateful! 

One day we received a donation of children's masks in a variety of colors. These people had nothing and no control of their life at this transition moment—and about the only thing we could offer was to the parents to let their little ones select their "favorite color" mask. 

In another area of the center they received one fresh change of donated clothes, with a bag to carry them in! At every moment, with everything I witnessed, with every interaction, I realized all that I take for granted, and all the freedoms I take for granted.

My service in McAllen was not anything grand. I responded to the call to help. All I was doing was trying my best to do the Corporal Works of Mercy. (I teach the Catechism and frequently ask the adults in my classes to name the corporal works of mercy.) Actually, DOING them is a whole lot more challenging, and life-altering!!

For me, serving in the shelter opened more than my eyes—this time in McAllen opened my heart!  I flew with a major airline to and from Charlotte comfortably. I was put up in a clean hotel, in a private room. I had money to select what I wanted to eat.  

One of my frequent prayers has become: "Oh dear God, thank you for all the blessings You (and others) have given me. And forgive me if I am ever ungrateful."
Celebrating Nurses Week
What a blessing to have such a wonderful team of nurses at Saint Joseph Villa. They are kind, compassionate, hardworking and a pleasure to work with. Thank you for all you do each and every day !
ZOOM—Erased: Women in the Early Church
by Julie Gabell, SSJ Associate
Recently, Villa Zoomers had an opportunity to hear SSJ Associate Dianne McGuire give a talk, “Erased: Women in the Early Church.” This address highlighted the fact that one of the best kept secrets of Christianity is the enormous role women played in the advancement of the early church. Dianne referenced the Epistles of St. Paul to highlight that many contributions of women were not fully recognized in a time when social structures barred women from many rights and privileges enjoyed by their male counterparts. In fact, in those early centuries, women were not considered full members of the church.

The travels of Paul placed him in many situations where women were essential to the spread of the Gospel. Though Dianne’s talk touched but briefly on the wealth of information available on this topic, the following “pioneer women” of St. Paul’s time were outstanding examples of uncompromising faith and dedication to early Christian belief.

  • A purple dye maker from Philippi, Lydia invited Paul to stay in her home and is believed to be the first woman baptized by him. The fact that women did not generally own their homes, nor invite persons to stay with them, speaks to Lydia’s prominence in the early church.

  • Prisca and Aquila were tentmakers in Corinth. In four out of the six times they are mentioned in the epistles, Prisca’s name precedes that of her husband, a position that indicates her prominence. The couple were first century missionaries who lived, worked, and traveled with the Apostle Paul. 

  • Paul considered both Andronica and Junia to be Apostles and this was accepted for the first twelve centuries. However, in the Middle Ages, Junia’s name was changed to the masculine Junis—since a woman could not be an apostle according to the social statutes of the time! Despite this, Junia’s preaching was acknowledged as outstanding among the Apostles.

  • Phoebe was a notable woman in the church of Cenchreae near Corinth. Paul entrusted her to deliver his letter to the Romans, a fact that underscores her importance to the spread of Christianity. A person of means, she was a noted teacher, deaconess and servant of the church.

Women, many of them martyrs, constituted almost half of St. Paul’s disciples. These pioneer women disciples remain courageous examples of steadfast faith and dedication to the early Christian church.
Laudato Sí Reflection for May 16, 2021
Sisters of Saint Joseph serving on the Chapter Implementation Subcommittee for Directive II, offer this excerpt from Laudato Sí and questions that you can use for your personal reflection, local community sharing, or another creative way you can incorporate these into your life. Enjoy this week's reflection.
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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 | |