With love from El Paso: November 5-11, 2023

Written on: November 15, 2023

Dear Friends,

Mary and I picked out two of the many possible highlights of the week that we’d like to share.

The first highlight is the faces of the children and young women when they were able to find something pretty in the “roperia”! The joy on their faces was so revealing, so touching. We humans need not just the bare necessities, but also some things of beauty. And some things of beauty can be so small, so invisible to those of us who aren’t refugees. The little girls just beam when they pick out a pair of pretty underpants. When the women find a pretty top that fits, they are so delighted and wonder if they can really have it!  Here is a photo of my sister Mary Bardol entertaining a charming little one while mommy shops in the roperia. We’re not allowed to take pictures of people’s faces, but these beautiful faces are etched on our hearts and in minds where no picture is needed.

The second highlight is departure time.

When families leave to yet another unknown destination, they leave with much love and gratitude for their time at the shelter. Men, women, and children do not leave without giving us hugs (BIG HUGS) and kisses and deep expressions of gratitude. They know we love them and how could we not!

Now an apology!

Believe it or not, I forgot to write my letter for week 2. Sister Bridget and Monica (a young volunteer from Texas) left at 6:30 on Saturday morning, November 4, and then my sister, Mary arrived at 2 in the afternoon.

Meanwhile I was “It”, and the place was rather busy, so writing wasn’t on my radar.On Sunday, November 5, Mary and I went to Annunciation House for an 8:30 a.m. orientation with Ruben Garcia, who is the founder and director. The meeting was originally scheduled for the previous week, but didn’t happen. Four other volunteers from other Annunciation “casas” were also in attendance. We had a rather extended time to introduce ourselves, including why we chose to volunteer.

One woman was a retired nurse who had been just about all over the world nursing in crisis situations. Her life was and is totally service-oriented.

Another, a young Columbian woman who just earned her master’s in journalism, wants to be able to use her journalism skills to “tell” the human side, the true cost of migration, climate change, war, and poverty. An immersion experience affords her great credibility.

One man thought it was the right thing to do and the other was discerning a change in career. Though we will probably not meet each other again, it brought us together in the moment and it was good.

Ruben then took over, describing why and how Annunciation House operates. The different DHS immigration branches release their numbers to Ruben who then distributes them to approximately 16 different shelters in the area. These are operated by different not-for-profit groups including Annunciation House.

Ruben addressed the current policy of busing by putting it in historical context. He agrees that non-border states need to step up to receive immigrants, it is who America professes to be. Of course, the way it’s being done, sending refugees to cities that are ill-prepared to receive so many is not good. There needs to be an organized plan to carry this out respecting the dignity of the refugees.  The city of El Paso is a shining example of open arms and open hearts. City buses are made available to transport refugees wanting to go to Denver, Chicago, or New York to the local bus terminal or El Paso Airport without charge.

Friday, there was an opportunity for Mary and me to go to Juarez with two Franciscan Friars.

They go there twice a week to help serve lunch at the Cathedral’s Catechetical Center, which is used as a soup kitchen on Monday through Friday.

They normally serve up to 1,200 guests in multiple sittings each day between noon and 4 p.m. Numbers have gone as high as 1,600 a day! This Friday was rainy and cold which they say may have contributed to a much fewer number. It was disappointing that we only served 68!

I was in Juarez in 2019, but only at the immediate area around the entrance to El Paso’s del Norte Bridge. This time we drove to center city – nothing but poverty everywhere we looked.

There was a heavily armed police presence everywhere. We were told that three days earlier, the police broke into a drug cartel and are now expecting retaliation. This too, could explain the low numbers for lunch.

Today is November 11, and almost all our guests have gone. Hopefully good for them, but too quiet for us. Tomorrow is another day that may bring us some more of our sisters and brothers, big and little!

In a few minutes Mary and I will be going to 5:15 Mass.

With love from El Paso,

Sister Diane and Mary Bardol

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