Wednesday, 31 October 2018 03:52

Mission in the Texas Rio Grande Valley

Written by Janet Rousso
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Janet Rousso – New Orleans Chapter

At the Border Wall - Barbara Sallettes, Joan Cruz, Mary Ann Becnel,
Kim Nunez, Charlie Freel, Janet Rousso, Matt Rousso, Bob Hitchins,
Ramona Casas, Jill Hitchins, Lolita Gary

In June, 12 of us set out for the Rio Grande Valley with Fr. Gerry Kelly, MM, and Matt Rousso, a Maryknoll Mission Educator and Promoter. We were not sure what to expect since the US government had recently initiated Zero Tolerance for refugees and asylees, and hundreds of children were being separated from their parents and put in detention facilities. 

On our mission visits, we were filled with deep sadness and much anger at what we saw. Our desire to offer the migrants smiles of welcome and words of friendship grew stronger each day. We wanted to  be in solidarity with the so-called “illegal aliens” and visit with the poor living in the Valley, hear their stories, and, in some small way, bring them our love.

As we walked along the Border Wall separating Texas and Mexico, we could imagine the experiences of people trying to cross the border; the journey of the migrant people became very real and very close.

Education, Engagement and Empowerment became a theme for me. We learned of the great work happening at the Daughters of Charity’s Proyecto Juan Diego in Brownsville, and at the Sisters of Mercy’s ARISE in McAllen. These people are doing amazing things—educating and empowering the people through leadership training, civic engagement, citizenship education, and youth empowerment.

At LA POSADA in San Benito, we met migrants waiting to join relatives or sponsors somewhere in the US. LA POSADA offers a safe refuge for migrants and refugees, some coming from the courts, detention centers, or Immigration. Sister Zita was rather taken aback when nine senior citizens, and three others not far behind in age, stepped out of the van. She was expecting high school seniors! We heard of Mario, Julia, Maria, and others—of their courage and determination to journey to a new land in spite of road blocks, difficulties, and complications along the way.

A t lunch time, Immigration dropped off two families, who had spent 17 days in a San Antonio detention center: a mother and her three children from Guatemala and a young indigenous mother from Quiche, Guatemala, with her small baby, Mateo.  As I watched participant Bob Hitchins take on the role of a loving parent with Mateo, I delighted in seeing the baby move from obvious discomfort and fear to a quiet smile in response. We came away feeling happy that we had witnessed the warmth of a home and people who are caring for migrants.

On our return from LA POSADA, we revisited two families whom we had engaged with in their homes, hearing their story. They had meager resources and lived in the colonias, sharing community with ARISE through its various programs. We brought a gift of fruit and offered a blessing and prayer of gratitude that they received us twelve strangers into their lives. Our revisit was special – like being with old friends.

A highlight was participating in an Interfaith Prayer Vigil and Walk in support of families in crisis at the border. Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, Jewish, Muslim, and Catholic ministers, religious, and lay leaders led approximately 300 people in prayer. In silence, we walked to the Federal Building where migrants meet the court for legal proceedings. How moving it was! Under umbrellas in the rain, we were at one with God and in solidarity with migrant families facing separation, detention, and possible deportation. Our good friends from Maryknoll, Sr. Pat Edmiston, MM, and Sr. Ann Hayden, MM, had told Matt about the prayer vigil. The next night, the sisters visited us for shared conversation around the supper table, and we heard about their great work and ministry.

One of the remarkable women we met was Sr. Norma, a Missionary of Jesus, the Executive Director of Catholic Charities for the Brownsville Diocese. Immigration authorities drop off migrants here before they travel to meet up with sponsors, relatives, or friends. Sr. Norma and her staff and volunteers welcome the migrants, often 100 at a time. Volunteers help make the connections necessary for the migrants to continue their journey. The migrants receive showers, clean clothes, hygiene supplies, and food. They were expecting a busload of people from ICE that very day and she invited us help the volunteers unload boxes and organize supplies donated from around the world. We happily obliged, feeling good to know we were helping in some small way. 

Lunch that day was at Subway in the Greyhound Bus station, very close to the Respite Center, followed by a special prayer service, “Migrants Seeking Posada,” right there in the station. Matt’s prayer centered on the Holy Family as migrants. At seven different locations around the bus station, participants Bob and Jill Hitchins portrayed migrants seeking shelter, exclaiming, “In the name of Heaven, I ask you for shelter. I am far from family and home—I am hurting and need your compassion.” With each pleading, we reflected on words of Pope Francis, praying that God would look after migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, and then sang a song in Spanish. It was indeed a reality check as we thought about the crisis at the border. As ICE did not bring migrants to the Station that day, we had no opportunity to be the first friendly faces to greet them.

As we departed, we had one lasting and unique moment at the gate in small Harlingen Airport. We saw Marlene, a volunteer from LA POSADA, with our young friend from Quiche, Juana, and her baby Mateo, on her way to Newark to meet her husband. What a special blessing that Joan Cruz, a Maryknoll Affiliate from New York, fluent in Spanish, was able to accompany them through the airport in Houston and on to Newark. For me, the picture of Juana and Mateo will live in my heart as I remember our special moments in the Rio Grande Valley and our small community of 12 missionary disciples from the New Orleans area, Mississippi, Houston, and New York. Words we saw on a handbag say it well:

 

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