By Sister Cathe Shoulberg
While reflecting on the Gospel on New Year’s Eve (Mark 4:21 – 25), I felt a gentle invitation to volunteer “on the Border,” a thought well outside my comfort zone. That evening, I finalized plans to travel to El Paso, Texas, to give some time to Annunciation House.
While I was not able to converse in Spanish, communicating was easy because everything that needed to be said could easily be communicated by looking into the eyes of the guests. There, I saw depths of gratitude for warmth, welcome and hospitality. I also saw pain in their eyes; they have endured much suffering, yet their faces express … HOPE!
The daily tasks were simple: Making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to give to our guests when they travel to family and loved ones in almost every state; serving meals and assisting the various communities that come to Annunciation House to serve meals with us; greeting the buses of immigrants coming from the detention centers; helping them find clean clothes, toiletries, towels, blankets; and my favorite part—laughing with the kids.
What was most noteworthy was the stories—the interaction of the migrants with one another, the tender care our guests showed to each other. In particular, the story of Louis, another volunteer who was 82 years young and had recently lost his wife. He told me that coming to Annunciation House to hand out beverages at lunch time each day made him happy. I loved watching him interact with our guests!
One especially tender moment came as a little girl of about four or four years old arrived with a blank stare, not eating or speaking. She had witnessed her mother being abused and beaten by a coyote, a paid driver who was meant to bring them safely to the border. I watched Louis take a special interest in this little girl. Louis uses a walker to assist him, and his walker has a seat attached. I watched as he gently lifted the child onto the seat and began to give her a ride. Within minutes, this blank face was a face of glee. Watching that transformation was miraculous! What brought it about? The love of an old man who wanted to bring light into the heart of a frightened child.
Another story: I observed a child being given an orange, but he didn’t know how to go about eating it! His father began to peel the orange in one single movement. The child’s eyes grew larger as the peel became longer. The father gently separated the segments and the child took such delight in every bite while the juice dripped onto his chin. As I observed these loving acts, it was impossible to hold back tears. Tears came daily as each day held its own benevolence.
This has been the experience of a lifetime. To have met the many who have been guests here has forever changed me. I will never pray the words of Matthew 25:35, “Welcoming the Stranger …” without seeing the faces of the many who touched my life during this time at Annunciation House. While we were not able to take photographs of our guests, their images—and their brave trust in an unknown future in an unknown land and sometimes with unknown people— are forever seared in my heart.
My hope is that they find loving, compassionate people with whom to journey throughout their lives and that one day, they will realize their dream of becoming citizens of the United States of America: A land where I still believe in the dream of our forefathers and foremothers, a dream that America is the land with “liberty and justice for all.”