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Sister Janice Brown, OP, Serves and Listens to Stories of Immigrants in El Paso, Texas
Exterior of Casa Papa Francisco

March 7, 2024, El Paso, Texas – During a February 9-27, 2024, volunteer session in El Paso, Texas, Sister Janice Brown, OP, ministered to immigrants crossing the U.S.-Texas border and heard personal stories about why they needed to leave their homeland and about their journeys to the United States.

Sister Janice served at Casa Papa Francisco, one of three Annunciation Houses in El Paso, Texas. Annunciation House serves as a place of hospitality for immigrants who are released from detention centers and are on their way to family members or friends in the United States who sponsored them. 

White woman with short blonde hair, her right eye closed, wearing a white turtleneck and a gray patterned jacket smiles at the camera Sister Janice was one of 11 volunteers who arrived together at Annunciation House and received orientation from Ruben Garcia, founder of Annunciation House. Because she was staying with the local Sisters of Loretto, she was assigned to serve at the closest house, Casa Papa Francisco. 

Nearly every person who came to the site "had the documents that are required to enter the country legally,” Sister Janice said. “They had gone through Border Patrol. They had gotten a court date.” After spending time in detention centers, the immigrants come to Annunciation House for rest, a meal, perhaps a change of clothes, and help in getting transportation to their sponsors’ home in the United States, she said. During her volunteer time at Casa Papa Francisco, immigrants traveled to join their sponsors in New Jersey, California, Colorado, Florida, and other places in the United States, she recalled. 

The hope is that Annunciation House guests stay for a short time before reconnecting with their sponsors. “Sometimes, the people don’t even stay a full day,” Sister Janice said. “If they can get transportation arranged, they can leave the same day. They might get a good meal, wash their clothes, and be on their way.”

Volunteers help to keep Annunciation House operating by completing numerous day-to-day chores. “I stepped into the working zone of the hospitality house 100 percent,” said Sister Janice. “We served wherever we were needed.” This included unlocking the doors in the morning and locking them in the evening, registering the guests, preparing meals, helping with the laundry, overseeing guests who worked in various areas, and cleaning the kitchen and other areas. 

But while these duties are essential, Sister Janice emphasized a greater dimension to her volunteer work at Annunciation House: being present to the guests and listening to their stories. “I don’t speak much Spanish,” she said, adding “Google Translate was my friend.” However, she understood and listened to many of the immigrants’ stories. 

One woman – whose husband was already in the United States – came with her children. They were kidnapped by a gang and held for 20 days while they called her contacts demanding money. Another woman had to pay $7,000 to a coyote – a person who charges immigrants to smuggle them across the border - to transport herself and her son to the United States. 

Another woman, on her way from Mexico to the United States, was drugged, raped, and abused. “She found herself in the hospital, and she didn’t remember any of it,” Sister Janice said. Her leg was so severely cut that she lost circulation and had to have her leg amputated to survive. “Casa Papa Francisco took her in,” she said. “She got a prosthesis and is trying to learn to walk on it.”

Immigrants and volunteers attend Mass in the chapel at Casa Papa Francisco. They sit in folding chairs in front of a priest at the altar with a large hanging cross on the wall behind him

Immigrants and volunteers attend Mass in the chapel at Casa Papa Francisco.

 

Sister Janice said several groups come together to help the immigrants. Along with the volunteers at the Annunciation House, other organizations serve in various ways. Las Americanas Border Servant Corps in New Mexico helps immigrants when they’re dropped off at the airport. Sisters of Loretto help with transportation, laundry, and gathering donations. “It’s quite a network of volunteers,” she noted.

“The resiliency of the people is amazing to me, that they go through all of this and are so vulnerable,” Sister Janice said. “They’ve gone through a lot of tough times but remain grateful and open.” 

Sister Janice advised people who volunteer at Annunciation House or similar houses of hospitality, even in the midst of a great deal of physical work, to be present to the guests. “There’s lots of work to do, but the presence and being welcoming are extremely important,” she said.

Sister Janice was at Casa Papa Francisco during the time that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Annunciation House, seeking to close it down. She pointed to the tremendous support that Annunciation House has, from Oscar Leeser, Mayor of El Paso; several state representatives; and Bishop of El Paso Mark J. Seitz, DD. 

Annunciation House “has a lot of support from the community, and it would be tragic to stop the good work,” Sister Janice said. Supporters stand behind the work of Annunciation House as part of the “Gospel mandate” to serve people in need. “We are called to welcome the stranger,” she said. “I think we are meant to be in a relationship with people who are vulnerable and in need.”  

Watch the press conference by supporters of Annunciation House from February 23, 2024.

white folding chairs around long tables covered with blue tablecloths in a tiled room with a cafeteria line at one end.

The dining room at Casa Papa Francisco is the scene of meals that restore immigrants newly arrived from the detention center.


 

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Avatar  Rose Ann Schlitt 3 weeks agoReply

What a great report, Janice. I can picture the geographic area you were in, but not the devastating conditions you experienced with those who passed Border Patrol and detention centers enroute to their US relatives. Thank you so much for your sensitivity and willingness to serve there in our name.



 

 

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