Left, Sisters Marita (left) and Ann (right) work with volunteers in the kitchen, making sandwiches for the guests to take on the bus or plane with them; contributed photo. Middle, Sister Marita works in the clothing area; Sister Ann Clark photo. Right, Sisters Marita and Ann with Sister Cecilia, a Sister of Charity of the Incarnate Word in charge of transportation at the shelter; contributed photo.
Urged by the redeeming love of Jesus the Christ and rooted in Eucharistic prayer, we Sisters of the Precious Blood proclaim God’s love by being a life-giving, reconciling presence in our fractured world. (CPPS Mission Statement)
In November of 2018 the Congregation was sent a letter from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) telling about the need for volunteers at the southern border of the United States to help with the large number of the immigrants who are trying to enter the country. Most of them are from Central American countries and are seeking asylum in the U.S. They are fleeing violence and poverty in their own countries. In January, two CPPS Sisters, Sister Marita Beumer and Sister Ann Clark, went to El Paso, Texas, to volunteer for two weeks with Annunciation House. The mission of Annunciation House states: “In a Gospel spirit of service and solidarity, we accompany the migrant, refugee, and economically vulnerable peoples of the border region through hospitality, advocacy, and education.” They are currently the connection with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency in the El Paso area. Daily they are notified how many people will be released from detention. Annunciation House has had to open more shelters to accommodate the increased flow. One of these is at the Diocese of El Paso Pastoral Center. A building on the grounds was given to Annunciation House to serve as a shelter. This is where Sisters Marita and Ann were assigned. Everyone working at the shelter was a volunteer. Many of the short-term volunteers were women religious who were answering the call from LCWR. Some of these volunteers knew Spanish and some did not. Even if you did not there were always peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to make, travel packs to put together, helping out in the clothing room, or just helping with everyday tasks. Each day we helped to welcome the families. After they get off of the ICE bus they are welcomed and given a short orientation and a bed in the dormitory. After that they are most often given a meal. Usually the meals were provided by parishes or parish groups of El Paso. We were really impressed at how these meals would show up every day. They never knew how many people they would be feeding that day, but there always seemed to be enough to go around and for seconds. Following the meal, we did “intake.” That meant to get their information from their immigration documents and to ask them a couple more questions. Most of those who arrived were parents with one or two or sometimes more children. One of the questions was about their health. Most of the children had colds, and some of the adults had other health matters. Several of them mentioned that they had seen a doctor while in immigration detention. The other question was if they had come alone on the journey or if there were others who had come with them and are still being detained. That was the hard question since some of them had come with husbands, mothers, sisters, brothers, who were still being detained. Some of them asked if they would be released to our location the next day. All we could say is, “We don’t know.” After intake they would go to another location where phone calls would be made to their sponsors in the U.S. who would then arrange transportation for them to their next stop.
After that each person would be able to choose a new set of clothing. They were also given toiletries and a towel so they could take a shower. Some of them stayed in the shower a long time since it had been awhile since they had the opportunity to bathe. They all came out of the showers feeling much better! Most of the guests were in and out of the shelter in a day and were on to their new home. We helped many of them along the way by taking them to the airport or bus station. As a matter of fact, we usually went to the airport in the morning and the bus stations in the afternoon every day. Probably the hardest thing we did while there was to take them to the airport or bus station and then have to leave them there. Most of them had not even been in an airport, much less in a plane. Most of the time they had to change planes in the Dallas, Atlanta or Chicago airports. Some of those going by bus had to change buses several times. We did the best we could to explain to them what would be happening but until someone experiences it, they probably don’t understand. We just hope and pray they all got to their destination. Since no calls were received saying someone didn’t arrive, we assume that no news is good news. We were not really allowed to ask why the guests left their homes. Some of them readily told their stories. One woman from El Salvador told me, “I didn’t want to leave my country, but I had to. They killed my mother and they knew I was part of her family, so I had to leave.” Another said that her house was broken into and robbed. Her son was threatened that if he did not sell drugs he would be killed. These are some of the stories. There were many more that we did not know.
We felt that our Precious Blood Spirituality and our mission to “be a life-giving, reconciling presence in our fractured world” called us to volunteer our time for two weeks to be with God’s people at the border. It was an experience we will never forget.
Story by Sisters Ann Clark and Marita Beumer