From a Faith Perspective: The Stranger

Written on: May 7, 2019

Here, we share a reflection, written by Sister Eileen White, GNSH. Thank you to the Bucks County Courier Times for allowing us to share her wisdom with you!

I had the privilege in March of volunteering for two weeks in El Paso, Texas, in one of several shelters organized to provide hospitality and compassion to those processed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and released to us by Border Patrol.

As a member of a religious community of Catholic Sisters, I had been reading for months the first-hand accounts of others who were serving at our southern border, providing humanitarian aid to mothers and fathers and children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

I had also been watching TV and listening to our President characterize immigrants as criminals, thieves, drug dealers, and rapists. The first-hand accounts from Sisters of other communities seemed more reliable, however, and the pleas for help became more insistent as the numbers of those arriving at the border increased.

Having lived for several years in Lima, Peru many years ago, I wondered if I might recover my Spanish and therefore be of some use as a volunteer.

So it was that Sister Diane and I flew to El Paso and joined hundreds of volunteers at shelters providing meals, clothing, showers, medication, a night or two of shelter, help with locating and traveling to relatives in the U.S., and, most importantly, welcoming smiles and kindness. 

But the stranger who dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you; and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34)

I am 74, and not as fit as the 81-year old Sister who went with me. I loved being with the refugees but at the end of each 8-10 hour shift, I was exhausted!  My Spanish got a little better each day, however, and that meant that I could meet families and do “intake” with many new arrivals.  It was quite moving to see the transition – remarkable and inspiring – from the exhausted, sickly, frightened men, women and children whom Border Patrol first brought to us, into the resilient, hope-filled families we greeted the next day after they had meals, showers, clean clothes, and a night’s rest at our shelter, Casa Nazareth (part of the Annunciation House system of shelters).  It was humbling, too, to receive their words of gratitude for the simplest gifts – a pair of shoelaces, a spoonful of cough medicine, lip balm, or whatever.

Since Border Patrol brought to our shelter between 100 and 150 men, women, and children each day, we met many families. We also met at least 50 other volunteers, some who came from afar as we had, and many who lived in El Paso. These El Paso residents helped in so many ways:

  • driving a family to the bus station or airport;
  • preparing meals for 100 or more guests;
  • making phone calls with refugees to arrange for a relative to purchase a plane or bus ticket;
  • laundering and folding sheets and towels every several days;
  • and so many other services.

El Paso had a profound impact on my own faith.

Christians believe that the risen Jesus is now in our midst, within us, and among us, and especially present wherever we reach out to anyone in need. I have had the experience in the past of finding God, incarnate in Jesus, among those who are vulnerable and poor. I had told my friends I hoped to “find” Jesus in El Paso.

One evening I was sitting on my bed thumbing through a prayer book I had brought with me from home and thinking about the people we had served so far. I came across a poem/reflection which I have prayed many times. It is by Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk, and it is quoted in part below.

Into this world, this demented inn
in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ comes uninvited.

But because he cannot be at home in it,
because he is out of place in it,
and yet he must be in it,
His place is with the others for whom
there is no room.

His place is with those who do not belong,
who are rejected by power . . .

With those for whom there is no room,
Christ is present in this world. 

So, my prayer was answered.

I “found” Jesus – in the father holding his little son’s hand and in the eyes of the mother feeding her baby. While in El Paso, I tried to text my Grey Nun Sisters each day so that they would feel present with us. I could only be there because my community wanted me to be there. Like all Christians, we try to imitate Christ’s all-encompassing inclusion of others, especially those “rejected by power.” In El Paso, Jesus was revealed once more among those “who do not belong.” I pray that we will all embrace Him in them and bring them into our hearts where they DO belong.

Sister Eileen White is a member of the Leadership Council of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart. She is a frequent contributor to “From a Faith Perspective” in the Bucks County Courier Times. If you would like to read more about the experience she and Sister Diane had in El Paso, please click here.

Quoted here: Thomas Merton, “The Time of the End Is the Time of No Room” in Raids on the Unspeakable. New Directions, New York,1966.

2 thoughts on “From a Faith Perspective: The Stranger

  1. KCWERICK says:

    Hi Sr. Eileen
    This is KC Werick—you taught me at
    Holy Angels Academy in —I believe—1968.
    You sound busy and happy .
    I‘m glad. Write to me if you feel like it.


  2. sr. mary McMahon says:

    Thank you Eileen for sharing your experience with the asylum
    refugees in El Paso. Thank you also for doing this for us in the name of the Grey Nuns.

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