Father Joseph V. Corpora, CSC, ’76, ’83M.Div. | May 2, 2019
When I walked into the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, people were everywhere — kids playing and running around, mothers nursing babies, teenagers chatting with one another, men talking and visiting.
I had arranged to meet Sister Norma Pimentel, M.J., there. The executive director of the local Catholic Charities office, Sister Norma received Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal last year for her devoted work with immigrants, refugees and the poor in the Rio Grande Valley. In 2014, she opened the Humanitarian Respite Center to take care of people who had been jailed for crossing the border while seeking asylum in the United States, and who had then been released and dropped off at the bus station. They had no money, no food, no change of clothing and no way to reach relatives who could purchase them a bus ticket, enabling them to stay in the States. They had not bathed in days; they had nothing.
I had volunteered to help at the center during the Christmas holidays and arranged through the local bishop to stay at the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle, where I would assist with Masses and confessions.
Before heading there today, December 29, I thought Sister Norma and I would meet in her office and talk about what I would do and set a schedule that would allow me to assist at the basilica. You can imagine my surprise when I realized Sister Norma’s office was wherever she happened to be standing at the moment. She described the place as “holy chaos.”
A dozen volunteers were making sandwiches, cleaning floors, serving lunch, sorting clothing, giving out aspirin, stacking mats that people had slept on the night before, hauling out the trash, lining up people to get on a bus to go someplace where a family member could welcome them. I learned that the day before ICE had dropped off 530 people.
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