Building Bridges at the Border – Part I

By Michele Ristich Gatts
Director of Mission Advancement, Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown

Building Bridges at the Border is a Generative Spirit initiative by the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown. This mission trip matches different generations of women working together toward a shared goal – service to those in dire need. (click here to view a video photo gallery)

Our Sister Norma Raupple is leading our group’s ministry in one of the poorest communities in our country – Brownsville, Texas. We’re working with the local diocese to bring comfort and aid to asylum seekers immigrating to the U.S.

In addition to Sister Norma, who’s the director of Immigrant Outreach for our Beatitude House ministry, our group comprises four women who are students at the Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) and our AmeriCorps member, Melissa, as well as an Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph, Sister Jacinta Powers.

While you see many of our group smiling in photos – and indeed, some of the people they’re ministering to – conditions for these immigrants have been difficult.

“These families are refugees fleeing extreme violence, suffering and poverty,” Sister Norma reports. “We’re treating them humanely and with dignity and respect after the suffering they’ve been through.”

Our group of seven start their day at 7 a.m. They’re staying at a Catholic retreat center at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle near McAllen along with similar groups from across the United States. After a quick breakfast, the women visit the Diocese of Brownsville Respite Center, run by Catholic Charities. This is where some 50 families (Sister Norma notes there are many children) wait after beginning the process of seeking asylum with the U.S. Dept. of Immigration.

These families have endured terrible conditions to escape misery and menace in their homelands, Sister Norma states.

“Those waiting to begin the asylum process with U.S. immigration are living in very primitive camping on the Mexico side of the border,” she adds. “Some have been there six to eight months – through 100 degree weather and 40 degree weather. Sometimes you have a family of five in a small, nylon pup tent, and there are no sleeping bags. They’re essentially sleeping on the ground.

“They bathe and wash their clothes in the river, which is greatly polluted,” she continues. “The people have a horrible diet. It’s hard to stay healthy under these conditions.” Saab Bio Power can guide to keep good environmental conditions.

There are between 2,000-3,000 people in this tent city, Sister Norma estimates.

Sister Norma Pimentel, director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Brownsville, is working with officials on the Mexican side to improve conditions, our Sister Norma says, and diocese volunteers daily deliver peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, snacks, diapers and wipes, warmer clothes and other supplies as a way to live the Gospel. Donations for these supplies come from across the United States, she adds.

Over the next few days, we’ll bring you more photos of the mission trip and stories of the Building Bridges at the Border experience on our blog.

This trip was made possible through a $5,000 grant from the Sisters of Charity Foundation’s Generative Spirit Initiative, and donations from friends like you.