They walk in with a look of lost bewilderment, many of them children searching for family, and all of them with tags indicating they've been through the detention center just a few miles away on the border with Mexico, and suddenly everyone in the room breaks out in thunderous applause. It is a daily ritual. This is what happens each day at the Sacred Heart parish in the small town of McAllen under the watchful eye of Sister Norma Pimentel, a woman who has become a legend in south Texas. These are the most recent refugees crossing the border at the southernmost tip of the United States, dozens of whom get routed daily through this refugee center where they get to wash up, eat some food, find comfortable clothing and manage a few days rest before they're sent on their way to family, friends or resettlement in a new city.
On a recent visit to the region we were witness to this spectacle which happens every day as dozens of new arrivals traipse through Sister Pimentel's center filled with mounds of clothes, processing tables staffed with social workers and other volunteers, a children's play space in one corner, showers and tents covering the grounds where parking used to be and a bustling atmosphere of hope and compassion. Sister Pimentel has won national awards, been singled out for her work by the Pope and is surrounded by loving, generous volunteers who fundraise and give of their energy in support her ongoing efforts.
Observing the immigration story from this vantage point at the border provides a very different perspective. Sister Pimentel comments that people from over 70 countries migrate to this little corner of our border in large numbers. Most of these human beings are drawn to the dream of a good job, a better future and the ultimate American dream. They remind us of innumerable stories of past immigrants who have now made their place in our society. Norma Pimentel is nourishing that American dream in the hearts of millions of people. Her hope, optimism and upbeat attitude permeate the lives of volunteers and clients alike. She lives a life of simplicity and dedication that is not only admirable and inspiring but provides faith and shared hope that our country is on the path to a more inclusive and accepting one.
I spent only an hour with this remarkable woman, but it was enough to admire her grit and passion, the way she smiled and the grace with which she carried herself. I was moved by the visit to this simple parish in McAllen and nurtured by the open acceptance of these humble migrants searching for something better in their future and that of their families. From McAllen everyone looks and seems like common family, folks that are divided by an artificial construct which is the border. The south if fine and holding, there's more to be positive about than the stories of hate and division. It is women like Sister Pimentel who are harbingers of the future and who with their daily lives show us the way to a more perfect union, to a more perfect world. Sister Pimentel requires all of our blessings and encouragement given the role she's chosen to play with her life. We could all learn from this charming lady of South Texas.