Welcome, Compassion, Gratitude
By Sisters Kay Conroy and Katherine McGrath
The emotion of gratitude was already deep within our hearts several months before we actually began volunteering at Annunciation House, El Paso, Texas. Our Sister of Charity Leadership was so affirming of our desire to return to this southern border hospitality ministry of ‘welcoming the stranger in our midst’.
Annunciation House, a truly Christian/Catholic, non-profit outreach center is inspired and challenged by the scriptural words, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me in your midst.’ Matthew 25:35 With the direction of Mr. Ruben Garcia and many volunteers they have been doing just that in El Paso and the bordering region of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico for over forty years. The outreach of Annunciation House loudly proclaims that Christian love can have no borders!
Casa Vides, one of their shelters was our site this year. Here several times a day, along with other volunteers, we, too, ‘welcomed the stranger in our midst’ as they arrived in Border Patrol buses. These refugees/asylum seekers, soon to be ‘our guests’ looked so fearful as they were ushered forward by the uniformed Border Patrol officer. On crossing the threshold of Casa Vides however, that fear was turned to tearful joy as we announced – ‘welcome to the United States – you have your Immigration papers in your hands – you are free – we are here to assist you on your journey forward – you are ‘our guests’ here’ at which time each group broke into applause with tears flowing freely. We witnessed heartfelt gratitude!
There was more applause when we continued, ‘you will be well fed – given a clean bed (bunk) -opportunity for showering – clean, ‘new to you’ clothes – assistance in contacting your sponsor who will arrange your travel plans from here ‘. We were so grateful for the house phone which had the Google Voice Translator app for Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Turkish, Russian. Witnessing their gratitude for such basic needs and personal attention was so deeply moving!
In welcoming these refugees/asylum seekers to Casa Vides we had restored TRUST and HOPE and so many of them then freely shared with us their story, often so treacherous. How we listened as individually they shared why they had left their homeland, other family members because of poverty, death threats, violence, daily fear, lack of work, corruption, despair. Despite all odds they embarked on a journey that they prayed would help them to realize their dream ‘for life, a safer life for my family’. Humbly we listened, overwhelmed at what the human spirit will and can do for life!
We welcomed them as ‘our guests’ and they in turn welcomed us into their hearts! Gratitude was overwhelming, overflowing and one had to ponder, who was the giver? – who was the receiver? In such a short period of intense time we were no longer strangers to each other. We were the family of God, one human family and we were so grateful to be celebrating this!
When our guests were leaving us to continue on to family, friends, once again there were tears of gratitude but now with big smiles, long held hugs, firm handshakes. Those still waiting their own departure broke into applause which was their way of blessings those on their way.
These refugees, asylum seekers, ‘our guests’ had taught us to see that although seemingly little was given to them it was a feast, it was enough, and they were grateful, renewed, strengthened to continue their journey.
YES, we witnessed gratitude! We deeply felt the emotion of gratitude! We were and will always be so grateful to have been the face and the heart of ‘CHARITY ALIVE’, at the southern border, August, 2022!