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Five Adrian Dominican Sisters Find Hope and Gratitude among Immigrants in Texas
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December 6, 2018, McAllen, Texas – In a situation that many might assume is desperate and hopeless, five Adrian Dominican Sisters found hope, gratitude, and resilience among immigrants whom they volunteered to serve at hospitality centers in McAllen and El Paso, Texas.

The Sisters were responding to the call by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) to serve immigrants passing through the hospitality centers before joining their sponsoring family or friend. Sisters Patricia Erickson, OP, Mary Kastens, OP, and Nancy Murray, OP, served for 20 days at the McAllen Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, while Sisters Judith Benkert, OP, and Maurine Barzantni, OP, served at various times at Annunciation House, a hospitality center in El Paso, Texas.

From left: Sisters Maurine, Judith, Patricia, Mary, and Nancy

The two hospitality centers serve immigrants – mostly from the Central American nations of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua – released from detention centers and heading to the homes of family members or friends who are sponsoring them. The hospitality centers offer the immigrants food, clothing, showers, shelter, and a ride to the bus station or airport from which they will travel to their sponsored home in the United States. The immigrants – sometimes as many as 300 in one day – stay at the hospitality center until they have money to travel to their sponsored home. 

Typically, the Sisters in McAllen worked from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., with a break for lunch, and spent the night in the Pilgrim House at the San Juan Shrine, about a 20-minute drive from the hospitality house. Sister Judith typically worked the 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. shift and stayed in a hotel.

The Adrian Dominican Sisters were among numerous other volunteers – other women religious, high school and college students, and concerned local residents – who took the time to offer the immigrants whatever services they needed.

“We didn’t have any specific duties per se,” said Sister Pat, a nurse practitioner. “Sometimes I would be in the coat and sweater room, helping people get the coats and sweaters they needed, or in the dining room, giving out tortillas and soup, or helping people in the clinic.” 

At the same time, the Sisters and other volunteers served wherever and however they were needed. “There were no job descriptions or outlines of tasks to be done,” Sister Nancy said. “You can’t always analyze but you have to get things done. You have to set the table before you sort the clothes, and in between other tasks when you could get the towels washed.”

Sister Judith said a particular challenge for her was encouraging the sponsors – who often needed help making airplane reservations for the incoming immigrants – to seek help from a local friend or family member. Many had never used the Internet or made reservations and were not fluent in English, she said.  

The Sisters were impressed by the patient and grateful attitude of the immigrants. “They always came with shoes that didn’t have laces,” Sister Judith said. “Laces and belts were taken away from them,” out of fear on the part of the detention center personnel that the immigrants would “do something drastic” with them.

“The highlights for me were the people who came through,” Sister Mary said. “They were very patient, gracious, grateful for anything you would do for them. It was special to see the fathers who came through with their children and how patient they were with their children – and how concerned.” Because all of the immigrants who came to the hospitality centers had a sponsor, they were filled with hope, she added. Those who had no one to sponsor them were often deported.

In spite of busy days and exhaustion, the Sisters learned much from their experiences with the immigrants. “I would put this as probably one of the greatest religious experiences of my life,” Sister Mary said. “My whole life has revolved around upper-middle class existence. … Here were people with one bag that held all their belongings. There was such a beauty from these people.”

Sister Judith said she learns from people in situations such as immigration or jail. “What matters in life is being together and having only what you need,” she said. “I’m always learning how to simplify my life, accept things that are important, and let go of other things that don’t matter.”

The Sisters also have suggestions for anyone who might consider volunteering at the hospitality centers. “It’s a great experience,” Sister Pat said. “Go without any expectations and be open to whatever comes your way. … You’re just there to be with people and to do whatever you can to help.”

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Avatar  Annette Dworsky, O.P. 5 years agoReply

Such a contrast/contradiction to El Paso's being described as one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. and people coming to the U.S. in order to take our jobs. Thank you for keeping up the important work of sharing truth about the southern border.

Avatar  Anneliese Sinnott 5 years agoReply

Thank you so much for doing this work of love in our name. Our prayers are with all those affected by these dangerous policies of the government.

Avatar  Anneliese Sinnott 5 years agoReply

Thank you so much for doing this work in the name of the rest of us. We are with you 100%.

Christmas letter 2018 - Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Siena - Iraq
“They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.” (Matt 2: 10-11)
Dear all,
As we celebrate Christmas, we are invited to join all people who were guided by the star and the angels to go and see God’s wonder. There we are confronted with both fragility of humanity and the power of God embodied in this new born child. Christianity in Middle East is challenged to live and to bridge both venerability manifested in our limitation and our hopeless reality on one hand, and the strength of God that goes beyond our expectations on the other hand. We trust that this can only happen by reconsidering what we have grown accustomed to. Like the wise men, we are invited to redirect out attentions from what is obvious and what is expected to what is not expected. The wise men went first to the palace of king Herod yet they had the strength to change their way and go to the unexpected place to be able to discern and see the extraordinary through the ordinary.

No doubt life in our country is full of challenges especially knowing that Iraq is not governed by its people but by some powers that are not concerned about Iraq’s integrity. People are exhausted of empty promises which makes them doubt if they would ever have a better future.

However, Christians in Iraq who have struggled for the past few years because of war, ISIS and displacement, are still hoping that their presence in the country is still meaningful, and has important role in changing the reality. With that faith they returned to their burned and destroyed hometowns after ISIS trying to make God's presence possible where it is not expected.

To tell the truth, people who returned to the Christian towns have made efforts to celebrate Christmas as they used to do before, despite the fact that some churches and homes are still destroyed and burned. They decorated Christmas tree, set the table, lit the candles, and prepared the gifts. Yet, they do not feel deeply connected to that because they once abandoned everything without warning.
However, they believe that what was left is what they should hold on: faith, inner strength and each other.

As a community, we believe that our mission is to bridge the two realities of vulnerability and inner strength. In the midst of confusion and turmoil, we find strength in people’s willing to cooperate and continue no matter how tomorrow will be. We have returned to five of our towns and we still think of the other towns like Batnaya, Tellkayf and Mosul whose people are not yet ready to return because of the destruction and unsafety. To return to these places will be a miracle that only God can make possible.

We are grateful to all people and NGOs that have been accompanying us in our journey. For sure, they manifest God’s care and love to His afflicted people through all the aids and solidarity with which they have been supporting us.

We wish all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Dominican sisters of St. Catherine of Siena- Iraq
Christmas 2018

Avatar  nturmer 5 years agoReply

Such a wonderful and generous endeavor. I am grateful to these five sisters being there.

Avatar  Todd Volker 5 years agoReply

Certainly it's great to help the unfortunate.

Best of all would be to press their governments to provide a living wage, so they don't have to believe their fortunes must be in some distant place far from friends, family, culture.

As a lay Dominican, I strongly encourage you to spend a few moments actually PREACHING about the Gospel. The message of Jesus is far more valuable than many secular people (and even some professed religious) understand. Please Preach---use plenty of words, help generate understanding.

Most people are "nice" and helpful---so just doing nice things ain't preaching in this day and age.

Avatar  Judith Benkert 5 years agoReply

Todd I appreciate your comment about preaching while ministering in El Paso. True Dominicans are consummate preachers. I would refer you to the preaching style of Catherine of Siena. True she spoke to the members of the Church when needed. Catherine also attended to the very poor of Siena. Providing food and comfort. Jesus,the very Word of God gathered the many following him and provided a sharing of foood. Loaves and Fishes. A very physical form of preaching. Judith Benkert,OP



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