The following is a reflection from Ursuline Sisters Yuli Oncihuay, Kathy Neely: Louisville and Carol Reamer: Toledo, Ohio, from their month-long mission in El Paso, Texas with the Casa del Refugiado of Annunciation House.
Three of us Ursuline Sisters (Yuli Oncihuay, Kathy Neely: Louisville and Carol Reamer: Toledo, Ohio) traveled together on April 29th to begin volunteering in the Casa del Refugiado of Annunciation House (founded in 1978) in El Paso, Texas. https://annunciationhouse.org/
After living and working together in Peru for many years, feeling supported and accompanied by the people of Peru, we felt that we wanted to offer that same welcome and support to our sisters and brothers coming to our borders here in the United States. Megan, a young coordinator volunteer giving a year of her life to help the refugees of Annunciation House, brought us from the airport and got us settled in our rooms. La Casa del Refugiado is housed in a large warehouse, divided into dormitories, dining areas, storage rooms and offices. The fourteen of us volunteers heard her orientation on the first day. Also, the staff (and the volunteers who were leaving) gave us helpful hints regarding our different tasks—most of the times, our refugee families are brought here by volunteers driving the La Casa bus.
Our tasks include greeting our guests, helping them with their documents, dispensing the articles they need (blanket rolls with sheets and towels, personal items) and taking our guests to the dormitory and showers. Fortunately, the Salvation Army supplies the three meals each day, which we help to serve. The guest families help with the cleaning of the dining room after every meal. On the first day of their arrival, we connect with their sponsor families who purchase the bus or plane tickets to their destinations, usually within a day or two after their arrival. Our refugee guests come from several countries: Cuba, Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Mexico, Haiti, Jamaica and others.
One of our activities included preparing a small gift (paper hearts, a prayer and candy) for all the mothers for Mothers’ Day. Each mother also received a rose from one of the young male volunteers who also works in a floral shop.
Each volunteer has one day off a week. On our day off of the first week, two Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who have an apartment in El Paso and who work in a shelter for refugee families in Juarez, Mexico, across the border from El Paso, Sisters Antonia (Mexican) and Sister Maureen (American) gave us a wonderful tour of El Paso which included looking out to see three areas at once: to our left: Chihuahua Mexico, the Rio Grande or El Rio Bravo, El Paso in the middle and to our right: New Mexico. We saw this beauty as the sun was setting over the Franklin Mountains.
This morning in the intercessions of the booklet Give Us This Day (daily prayers for today’s Catholic), “Give joy to those who minister in homeless shelters, through charitable agencies, and on the streets” spoke loudly, as we are finishing a week and a half of our service here. The three of us have heard stories from families of their horrific journey, the pain of separations for months, and the hardships they have endured, but we have also heard the joy of the children as they are playing. We have seen the smiles of the mothers and fathers, and this is our joy, to be able to do our small part to help our sisters and brothers feel welcome in our home.