At the end of October 2018, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) sent out a national call for volunteers to assist various agencies with the influx of people seeking asylum at the U.S. – Mexico border. Because of my work and interest in immigration policy, the Sisters of Charity – Halifax Congregational Leadership Team asked if I would be willing to travel and volunteer my time with one of these organizations. After a brief search, I was set to volunteer at the Humanitarian Respite Center run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
Heading to McAllen, Texas to serve at the Humanitarian Respite Center during the Christmas season, I set my heart to be like the Magi – searching for Jesus. In the faces of men, women and children seeking comfort and safety, I didn’t have to look far to see the vulnerable Christ-child in need. However, I did not expect to feel myself truly standing on holy ground.
The story starts with a coincidence – Ericka, a friend of mine from New York, happened to be in McAllen for a wedding. Then, by Providence, she and some of her friends came to volunteer at the Respite Center on December 31. Their circle included a priest friend who offered to say the Vigil Mass that evening for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. At 9:00 pm, the nearly 200 guests of the Respite Center gathered in the dining area for Mass. Fr. Agustino Torres, CFR led the families in song repeating the verse “Proclama mi alma” over and over in praise during the homily. At the end of Mass, each person received an individual blessing and a medal imprinted with Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Divine Mercy.
As countless people collapsed into tears, it was impossible not to weep with them. Imagining the collective stories in that room, of their struggle, their journeys, their risking their lives, one could only feel their ache and release in that moment. Through the Eucharist, prayers, hugs, smiles and warm exchanges, Christ was present, walking among us in this small space. This nursing home-turned-respite center had been transformed once more into a Sanctuary.
When St. Vincent de Paul was called to hear the confession of a dying man, his heart was moved upon realizing how the spiritual needs of this poor man, and others like him, had been neglected. Vincent had not guessed their hunger or need for Christ, but their yearning led to his own personal conversion.
Week after week, volunteers like myself work to provide for the physical needs of so many seeking asylum in the United States. Clothes, socks, shoes, showers and a warm meal are the order of the day in the Respite Center. Yet, how many have not stopped to think of the spiritual needs that exist? The needs that go beyond extending kindness, but truly sharing Jesus with the families. I found myself blessed and humbled to be reminded that our basic needs also extend to the soul and to share that evening of prayer with my brothers and sisters.
Melissa Gibilaro is the Coordinator of Justice, Peace and Care of Our Common Home for the Sisters of Charity – Halifax. She volunteered at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen from the end of December through the beginning of January. She resides in Queens, NY.
Editors note: This is a group of Vincentian Family members who meet regularly at the request of the leaders of their respective branches. Their reflections do not represent Vincentian Family policy, but are shared to spur our reflection and action. Look for these contributions the third Thursday of each month. Comments are very much appreciated.