What's Happening


Associate Sharon Pikula, center, stands with a large donation of shoes brought to the Welcome Center in Phoenix by a donor from San Francisco.

April 19, 2024, Phoenix, Arizona – In a place where many people might see hopelessness, Adrian Dominican Associate Sharon Pikula saw a heart-warming scene where people help one another and find joy and comfort in small matters. 

Sharon volunteered for a week at a welcome center for immigrants in Phoenix, Arizona, working with other volunteers to give immigrants who pass through the center time for respite and recovery. Typically, the immigrants come from a detention center run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or from other nonprofit organizations located near the border, she explained. 

The welcome center where Sharon served was established in a former elementary school building by various local nonprofit organizations, under the umbrella of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Sharon explained. The center has space for up to 400 people to sleep, but its primary aim is to offer temporary space for immigrants to “stabilize their situation – rest, get a new set of clothes, get a shower, [and enjoy] three meals a day,” she explained. The ultimate goal is to prepare them for journeys to the homes of their sponsors, family members or friends who reside in the United States. Typically, 175 to 300 immigrants pass through the welcome center each week, Sharon said. 

During her week at the IRC Welcome Center, Sharon worked three-hour shifts packed with activity: coordinating showers, preparing used clothing, working in the clothing room, serving meals, and offering any other service needed by the immigrants. Often after her shift, she and other volunteers shopped at local thrift stores for clothing, toiletries, and other necessary items to stock the shelves of the IRC Welcome Center. 

Sharon described the work as heart-wrenching. “Other than the clothes on [their backs] and maybe a backpack, that’s all they’ve got,” she said. Yet, during the orientation, the volunteers were told not to question the immigrants about their experiences to avoid re-traumatizing them. “Their recommendation was to give them as much autonomy as possible and not to throw questions at them,” Sharon said. “I tried to be as helpful as I could, but I did not push any questions … and just helped them get whatever they needed.”

During off-hours, Sharon stayed at the nearby house of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The experience was “very holistic in terms of being of service but also having space for yourself to take in what you were experiencing – time for prayer and reflection,” she said. She also spent part of her evenings gaining some insight into the plight of the immigrants by reading Solito, the memoir of Javier Zamora, who, in 1990, at the age of 9, traveled by himself from his native El Salvador to be reunited with his parents in the United States. 

Still, Sharon witnessed joy and hope. “One of the things you learn is that you may find yourself in some really tough situations, but you still see the humanity of people in terms of helping each other out,” she said. She gave the example of a man from Africa who, on watching Sharon clean off the tables before preparing a meal, stepped in to help her with this task. She also recalled the generosity of a man from San Francisco who traveled to Phoenix with a carload of donated shoes for the immigrants. “They were gone within a day,” she said.

Sharon also applauded the generosity of activists who advocate for the welfare of immigrants, even if they don’t necessarily work with “day-to-day direct service,” and spoke highly of the support she felt from Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates who prayed for her and for the immigrants she served. “I really, full-heartedly believe that prayer support is deeply needed across the spectrum, whether you’re in direct service or the activist or whatever role,” she said. “We need that praying presence.” 

Sharon said volunteering at the IRC Welcome Center was part of her search to serve others. “As I’m moving into retirement, I want to do some service,” she said. She heard about the center from a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur in her parish, who had served at the center. Feeling that Phoenix was not too far from her home in Washington State, Sharon applied to volunteer at the welcome center. “I’m hoping in the later part of the year to return there,” she said. “It’s a very tender and vulnerable place.”

Sharon has some advice for anyone who would like to volunteer at a welcome center for immigrants. “Be open to the experience,” she said. “If you have some prayer or spiritual practices, make sure you’re doing them regularly. Watch for the simple things. It’s not the grandiose stuff – it’s paying attention to the simple needs of the people and allowing them to be as autonomous as possible and giving them space.”

Listen to Sharon’s Holy Week reflection on her experience at the welcome center.

Representatives of nation states gather in one of the large conference rooms at the United Nations for a town hall meeting

April 4, 2024, New York, New York – Adrian Dominican Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, the Dominican Representative to the United Nations, urged participants at the UN’s 68th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68), held March 11-22, 2024, to promote women throughout the year. “Women in all their diversity – take that with you and promote it,” she said. “That’s one of the most important things we can do this year.”

Sister Durstyne hosted 10 other Dominicans – including five Adrian Dominican Sisters – at the annual event at the United Nations. 

The Dominican sisters were among an estimated 6,000 people who attended the conference in person and another 15,000 who attended virtually. Along with the UN officials and governments were members of civil society organizations, experts, and activists. 

Worldwide, women experience extreme poverty and suffer from gender violence, domestic violence, and inequality in their access to education and funding – all while, for the most part, shouldering the most responsibility for the care of their families. Officials at the United Nations addressed these issues during CSW68 under the theme, “Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective.” At the end of the session, UN delegates signed on to a statement on women and agreed conclusions.

Members of civil society did not attend the official proceedings, but they spent their two weeks at CSW68 attending a series of side events – workshops and presentations by UN governments and their NGO partners – and parallel events presented by other members of civil society. 

Dominican Community Experience
Among those attending the side events, along with Sister Durstyne, were Adrian Dominican Sisters Bibiana “Bless” Colasito, OP, Jolyn “Jules” Dungo, OP, Xiomara Méndez-Hernandez, OP, Maria Eneida Santiago, OP, and Barbara Kelley, OP; Sister Yelitza Ayala, OP, of Puerto Rico; Sister Philomena Benedict, OP, of the Dominican Sisters of Stone, England; Sister Ameline Intia, OP, of the Philippines; Sister Selena Wilson, OP, of the Amityville Dominican Sisters in the United States; and Sister Valentine, of South Africa. 

During the often frenzied two weeks of sessions at the United Nations and nearby parallel – after daily commutes on the train from the Marydale Retreat Center of the Dominican Sisters of Hope in Ossining, New York – the Dominican Sisters formed community and shared numerous experiences and perspectives. Among the notable experiences was attendance on March 16 at the St. Patrick’s Day Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in downtown New York and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. 

Reflections on the Experience 
Sister Eneida recalled the “positive energy that was lived at every moment” during CSW68. “It gives me a lot of energy and hope to hear so many women, all in their diversity and in the same cry, united to provoke the changes that we deserve in any context of today’s world, which in turn produces a transformation of lives away from violence, exclusion, poverty, and abuse of power.” Sister Eneida said this message is key to her ministry as a counselor at a school in her native Dominican Republic. She said she hopes to transmit to the school’s adolescents and their mothers “all that energy that I received to continue multiplying that desire to get out of the oppressive situations that keep them afraid to raise their voices.”

During an interview with Global Sisters Report reporter Chris Herlinger, the Dominican Sisters joined other women and men religious in reflecting on their experiences during the first half of the two-week conference.

From the beginning of the experience, Sister Xiomara was impressed by the sense of “sisterhood,” not only among the Dominican Sisters but also among the CSW68 participants. She recalled standing in line on the streets of New York for two hours on March 10 waiting to receive her credentials for the event when another woman in line spoke of dancing the flamenco. Sister Xiomara offered to show them the Latin salsa and another woman sang an opera. 

“It was so much joy, that power of sisterhood, that when we went inside, we were just clapping and talking.” Asked by a UN guard why they were so happy, Sister Xiomara responded, “Because we are women.” She said she was inspired by “listening to the voices of women and the power of women … and all the possibilities we can do together, claiming our voices. … I’m leaving inspired.” 

Sister Bless was especially inspired by the sessions focusing on women’s education and financial empowerment. “If we educate women, women will know their rights. It’s essential for them to know their rights so they can assert themselves and they will not just be subjected to abuse by men.” 

She also noted that domestic violence is a “worldwide issue, one of the factors that is really contributing to the abuse of women.” To counteract domestic abuse, Sister Bless focused on the need for education not just for women and girls but also for men and boys. “Men and boys can be educated in terms of their role in having a good family, and also [in] respect for women,” she said.

Many of the Sisters named as a highlight their experience of participating in a silent march several times around the US Mission to the United Nations to call for a ceasefire in Palestine. “I was very touched by the organization and the compassion,” Sister Xiomara said. “I felt like I was one of the women from Palestine walking. They couldn’t be there. I was there because of them. … It was inspiring to feel like I was walking as one of the women from Palestine [calling] for the ceasefire.”

Sister Durstyne raised another issue: land rights for the Indigenous peoples whose lands have been taken from them. She serves on the US Caucus of UN Women and the Amazon Subcommittee for the Indigenous People. “How can we address women and their right to own land, their right to have this incredible gift that should not only be a gift but a right?”

Signs of Hope
Sister Durstyne hopes to see the issue of land rights for women included in the CSW’s official agreed conclusions. As an NGO, she said, the Dominicans have been able to “give some input into the statement on women and the agreed conclusions.” Though the document might not include everything she had hoped for, she said, “we have an opportunity to try to move the needle a little bit further, and that’s what the Commission on the Status of Women is all about.”

Sister Jules echoed Sister Durstyne’s hope. “This conference invites us to continue to be passionate in giving hope and uplifting the spiritual situation of our women in our own community, our own country, and the women who we live and work with,” she said. “And let us be an instrument in making their lives worth fighting for.”

For more information on CSW68, the influence of Catholic Sisters, and the formal documents that resulted from the session, read the article by Chris Herlinger in Global Sisters Report, a project of the National Catholic Reporter.



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