By Sister Luz-Eugenia Alvarez
From the time I began formation in the novitiate (a phase in the process of becoming a Sister of Mercy), I knew that, following the completion of classes on the vow of service, there was the possibility I would go to the U.S.-Mexico border. This past June, I did.
I traveled to the border between McAllen, Texas, and Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico, to learn about how the sisters serve immigrants there. Sisters Terry Saetta and Patricia Mulderick, who minister at ARISE Adelante, a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Mercy, received me at their home and accompanied me during the experience. The house was chosen as their convent because it has enough rooms to provide space for those who visit and want to learn about the border reality. Sister Rose Weidenbenner also accompanied us for a couple of days.
The plan for those days was to learn about ARISE Adelante and its mission to promote “the personal development and empowerment of the immigrant community, especially women, children and youth from the Rio Grande Valley through educational programs that strengthen their organized community and their civic participation.” Its pillars of social justice are: housing and infrastructure, immigration, education, health and environment, youth leadership, leadership and spiritual development, and civic engagement.
This knowledge was both theoretical and practical as we visited each of the ARISE centers located in four towns in Texas. We also had the opportunity to listen to the testimonies of women who are part of the ARISE staff. It was evident that the values communicated to them by its foundress, the late Sister Gerrie Naughton, were based on what are critical concerns for the Sisters of Mercy and which continue to be their guide and inspiration. These women have found their voice and power in such a way that now they, once volunteers, are the ones who direct the program and empower other women and communities.
We also took a tour along the wall that divides the two countries to see the conditions that people who try to cross it have to go through, leaving pieces of clothing, and most surely their skin, on the barbed wire that surrounds it. They risk their lives crossing the Rio Grande, trying to jump the wall, and evading the cameras, sensors and border patrol vans.
In Reynosa, we visited the three main shelters for immigrants, in which people from Haiti have been given priority for now because they are in a more vulnerable situation than immigrants who speak Spanish. In two of the shelters in Reynosa, hundreds of people had to sleep in tents exposed to intense heat, since the rooms are limited. It was very motivating to see the dedication of religious sisters and a Protestant pastor supportive of immigrants.
We visited two shelters in Texas, one in San Benito and the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, run by Sister Norma Pimentel, MCJ. In the latter, we dedicated several hours of service. We also visited the towns where many of the Sisters of Mercy served years ago as teachers in various parish schools.
And we also enjoyed a day on the beach on South Padre Island to cool off from the intense heat of the area.
At the end of each day we were invited by the women at ARISE to reflect on integrating the experience of the day. It would take too long to describe everything experienced in that week. I encourage others to go and experience it personally.
During this week of learning Mercy’s ministry at the border, we were able to see how the spirit of Catherine McAuley continues. Just like her and in the first foundations, small groups of sisters continue to empower many women through God’s mercy, leading them to “Arise” and move “Adelante,” so that “they may have life and life in abundance” (John 10:10).
Sister Luz-Eugenia will be making her profession of temporary vows on October 15, 2022. Learn more about the process of becoming a Sister of Mercy.