Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Attending the Global Coordinating Group 2017

Sr. Ieda (Chambery) Michele (USA- Buffalo, and Maria Goretti
 (Annecy) were the planning team for 2017
Once again, I had the privilege of going to LePuy, for which I am most grateful.  I stayed at the International Centre, where programs are held on our charism, guided tours are given of LePuy and a special Cultural Diversity program is held given several times for Sisters from all over the world. 

I walked the streets where our first sisters ministered and where they reflected/prayed/worshipped in the Notre Dame Cathedral.  It was so inspirational and motivating for me to then go to the Global Coordinating Group where Sisters of St. Joseph and Associates are represented from ALL over the world, numbering in the thousands. 
Srs. Monique (France), Gemma and Petr (Italy)

We talked about being the Family of Joseph that hears the heart of the world and responds to the needs of the world.  So, how can we support and collaborate with one another throughout the world?  One way that can be done is through our United Nations NGO representative.  After much discussion it was agreed that we commit ourselves to get information to this representative in a timely manner, who then can have an influence at the UN.   Also, we need to communicate information to our Congregations from this representative. 
Srs Anne and Loretta (Canada) and Justine (India at the UN)

Another avenue is through the International Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Committee.  (I-JPIC).  We committed to be responsive to the core group who are trying to set up a system to communicate to/from the various CSSJ Congregations in the world.  Federations and Congregation that have only a few sisters in an area will look at ways they can collaborate with one another.  Within the group there was a unity of purpose and a growing connection among our ministries around the globe.

It was an energizing and motivating meeting.  Having translations in French, Spanish and English simultaneously made it quite interesting!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A New Way

I see a vision in 2030 of women not necessarily vowed religious, living in community, either actually in a Residence
together or at least that gather and pray daily and serve in ways determined by the need of the adjacent communities residents.  I see this as a sort of Beguine type experience where the ingress and egress of women in the daily work of the community is fluid, as in some live together. Some live with their families but pray and work with the community daily or mostly daily.  I would think the population this type of arrangement would appeal to is the older woman or the mid life woman who's children are nearly grown or who never had children.  Meaningful work and prayer would be the hallmarks of such a community.

How the sisters of St Joseph live now is close to this, however  I propose Incorporating non vowed laywoman in the community residences and daily community work and prayer, that this will help the charism live on and provide a
structure for it without the requirement of traditional training, novitiate and taking the formal vows of chastity, obedience and poverty.  The associates ceremony could be a good replacement for that.  There is so much more to figure out but convents could be full again of prayerful women who find strength in community but did not feel called to or didn't respond to a calling to religious life earlier in life.
Respectfully committed, Catherine Roberts, CSJA

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Religious Life for a Sister of St Joseph in 2030- My Sense of What Marcia and Mary are Talking About

I discard the old narrative- we are not dying, we are transforming ourselves and it is happening in ways I did not necessarily expect.  When I look out of the corner of my eyes at the periphery on the horizon I seen amazing things happening and they do begin to paint a picture of deeper communion.
Three words come to me when I imagine us in 2030: flexible, collaborative, and engaged. 

Sr. Marcia Allen at LCWR
TRENDS software indicates that maybe we will be 6 congregations in 2030.  I don’t know about that but what I believe strongly is that we will find a way as a Federation to support each other as our numbers of consecrated religious decline but our focus on and commitment to the charism and the mission continues to expand.  It may be that we have covenant relationships or mergers but what I imagine is that we will create new structures that enable us collaboratively manage the day to day in an effective way while innovating new ways to engage with those who join us as agrégées, associates, friends, partners in mission, and consecrated religious to see the big picture.  I cannot imagine being a Sister of St Joseph without these powerful alliances with the women and men who also claim our charism.  The flexibility to invent what we need to move into the future will be the hallmark of our collaborative style.

Speaking of collaboration, I imagine us forging new collaborations with people we do not yet know about issues that have not yet emerged.  Where we are needed, we will put our energy and focus. No longer do we need to be the leaders and have our name on everything we touch.  However, where we chose to spend our time our energy, resources, and zeal will be felt.
Sr. Mary Pellegrino delivers her
Presidential Address at LCWR 

International relationships are an essential element of our life in communion.  As we are smaller, we will know each other including our Sisters of St. Joseph around the world.  The US needs us to hold a global view and be able to speak with credibility about issues such as caring for the earth, global poverty, and emerging spiritualties.  We are stronger in all these areas when our global vision is formed through genuine relationships especially with those from the global south.  

Jean Pierre Medaille S.J. left us the legacy of the two trinities, the maxims and the 6 virtues. These can only really be understood as mystical documents.  Through our ongoing contemplation of these initial documents and our reading of the signs of the times, we will be able to communally discern a future together with all our partners.

Friday, August 11, 2017

LCWR Presidential Address

Mary began her address with a funny
story about how she was named
Sister Mary Pellegrino, the President of LCWR and a Baden Sister of St Joseph began her presidential address by reminding us that stories are important- they carry memories and contain grace.  Stories may or may not be true, complete or fully informed.  Sometimes stories evolve as new information becomes available.
Mary challenged the intent listeners to disrupt the old narrative- the old story about diminishment in religious life with a new story that is more complete, telling both our historical accomplishments and our failures and emerging sense of communion.  There is a new vitality in religious life and it is global. The diversity in ethnic make-up and country of origin of sisters in the US and globally is changing.  As we grow in communion, there is much for us to learn.

Sr. Teresa Maya thanks Mary for her
powerful presentation
Mary reassured us, “Our future has already entered us, is already transforming itself in us.  Our work in this house is to let the former things pass so that the future – already in our blood – can happen… I believe that tending our grief over our own many and great losses and over the heartbreak of the world, clinging to the gossamer-thin veil at this threshold between loss and revelation and inviting others to do that with us is one of the most generous and generative acts of service that we could possibly render for our grieving sisters, for our hurting neighbors, for our broken world.” 
Click here to read Mary’s entire presentation.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Day 1 LCWR- Key Note Speaker Chris Pramuk

Quoting from a range of African American writers, poets and musicians, Chris Pramuk led the LCWR through his musings that music is a metaphor for our spiritual journey. Referring to Thomas Merton he noted that music makes us vulnerable to texts that can then more fully open us. He spoke of the power of the African spirituals to open us to one another with a fascinating juxtaposition of vulnerability and power.  Words of spiritualities become as sacraments, instruments of real presence.
Chris Pramuk shared powerful insights


Chris spoke about the difference that keys make in declaring emotions in music.  It is the minor keys that touch him the most.  Those African spiritualities sung in minor keys are those that are much less sure of themselves. They speak of the grief of the past and the present and ask a question both hopeful and uncertain of the future.  It is in that hope and uncertainty that resonates with our human experience and struggles.
Piano has been a lifelong way for Chris
to experience the Divine.  He creatively
shared that gift with us

With words, Chris painted vibrant visual images and with music he engaged us in a creative way that allowed us to easily enter into the challenges that he was presenting.  Quotes from Fredrick Douglas, DeBlois and Fumi Tosu challenged us to let go of our fear of death.  Bono’s postmodern spiritual written for the mothers of the disappeared told the story of how the dead live among us and are real for us.  These words and songs “can plunge us into the liminal space between life and death” he shared.  He offered that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached himself through his fear of death in his last sermon before he was assassinated.

The large group then broke into smaller “deepening groups” to delve more deeply into what was said and what it offered to us.
Some of the learnings shared at the beginning of the afternoon session were:
  •  Songs in a minor key can vividly help us actively remember the past and kindle hope in an uncertain future, if we can let go of our fear
  •  The spirit speaks through everything and maybe especially in our experience of pain, loss
  • Acknowledging the vulnerability of our own lives and those with whom we minister.  That might be where our power may be
  • Sense of communion which we share with the suffering and joy-filled world
  • Expectation, movement- we may be called to action, what might the world be calling us to do?
  •  Real sense/passion to move forward in hope and with courage, the name of what has not yet been given but may emerge  
  • Fear, loss, and diminishment is real but there is a sense that there is energy and excitement for the next. The call is to live, to be a presence
  • Spirituality of music- what songs are our congregations singing- what are the words of those songs, the words and the melodies can be transformative- if they are the words that resonate with our reality
  • Dissonance in the music is the time that musicians are challenged the most to bring the best of their instrument forward.
For the rest of the afternoon, the LCWR will meet in closed session to make directional and structural decisions and to hear from the candidates for the President-Elect.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Preparing for Le Puy

Preparing to spend the next two years at the International Centre in Le Puy has been a mix of excitement, detachment and hard work over these past two months. At times I felt as though I were free floating in space and at other times I was just focused on getting things done.
Olga on a field trip to the Confluence Museum in Lyon
 while studying at language school

The opportunity to live and work in France has been a lifelong dream and when it seemed as though I’d never finish emptying my condo, dealing with paperwork or packing light, I’d think about that dream and keep moving.

I thought I lived simply in my three-story condo, but found out I had accumulated much stuff over the years. So I divided my worldly goods into four groups: things to sell, things to give away, things to store, things to take with me to France. Since I calculated that upon my return to the USA I would live in a much smaller living space, it was easier to detach myself from my 54-inch dining room table. Electronic equipment might not survive two years of storage, so out that went. Clothes that had been hanging in my closet for years without use were obvious give-aways. However, the hardest things to unload were the countless scrapbooks of photos, published newspaper and magazine articles, travel slides and many books, so I saved them together with my bulky TV that had both DVD and video capability.

Then there was my car. While it was going to a good cause (my friends were giving the car to their 25-year-old niece who is trying to recover from her drug addiction and start her life again) and I was getting my hoped-for price for it, it meant a loss of freedom of movement and maybe a bit of my identity since it was a distinctive boxy car that looked like a toaster. Since my car was one of the last things I did in this whole down-sizing process, perhaps it made me face the reality that I was leaving everything familiar and about to steep myself in a new culture, a new language, a new continent and a new experience.  Once I step on that plane, however, I’ll be ready for a new adventure, a new identity and a new way of life, so I’m up for the task!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

ACOF Convocation: Designing Relationships for Mission: Affirming Leadership, Claiming our Future

St. Louis associates at the Motherhouse for
 “The Lace Is Not Finished” workshop, May 2017
Submitted by Andrea Pearson Tande, Consociate, St Paul

Associates, Consociates, Ohana, and Familia de San Jose (ACOF, or lay associates) from all Provinces of the Carondelet Congregation are looking forward to our upcoming convocation, where we will come together to celebrate our common heritage and support leadership for our future. ACOF members from St. Louis, Los Angeles, Albany, St. Paul, Hawaii and Chile will be in attendance at this convocation, which is to be our first in more than two decades.

We will gather from June 22-25, 2017, at Fontbonne University in St. Louis MO, with a special welcome event at the CSJ mother house.

Keynote speakers include Shawn Madigan,CSJ, and Carrie Arnold, St. Louis Associate.
Associates prepare for a reception hosted during 
the 2017 Los Angeles Province Assembly.
  names: back to front left: Denise Ginty, Janne Shirley, 
Dianne Nelson; right: Sr. Irma Araneta, Linda Stapleton.
Theme: Grounding ourselves in CSJ Spirituality and History and preparing ourselves for the future.

Please keep convocation participants in your prayers as we prepare for this historic event. 

St Louis Associates at the annual meeting October 2016

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Creating the future God Desires By Rita Woehlcke SSJ

As Sisters of Saint Joseph, we enter the New Year more sure of and committed to God’s desire, that all may be one. “Like our First Sisters, we are “eyes wide open, ears attentive, spirit alert, sleeves rolled up” * to heal the divisions of our day. With you, we look at the world God loves and see a country divided, a crisis of what media to trust, a world of devastating piecemeal wars, orphaned children, countless refugees, festering pockets of hate and a resistance to what science is telling us about the plight of Earth. Violence and threat are palpable. It is easy to be overwhelmed and paralyzed by the scope of the needs, and that can block us from the small but great good we can accomplish where we are.

Sr. Rita Woehlcke
We believe God desires a different future and that we sisters and you who love our mission are all God has and exactly who God wants to help make God’s dream a reality. We hear the challenge:

“The human heart can go to the lengths of God.
Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes.
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.
Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us ‘til we take
The longest stride of soul men ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
The enterprise is exploration into God.
Where are you making for? It takes
So many thousand years to wake,
But will you wake for pity’s sake?”

“A SLEEP OF PRISONERS” from the play with that title, by Christopher Fry, 1951

And so the question looms, “How big is my soul?” Our first sisters physically felt the hunger, the miseries of 17th century France. They were ONE WITH. Our lives prepare us for the same heartfelt connections. What heartbreak and loss have stretched my heart so that I feel and know the grieving parents and widows of the Middle East? What personal trauma creates solidarity in me with all who suffer oppression, derision or shame, simply for being who they are? What debt of gratitude for unmerited blessings I have received binds me to those in need of my blessing?

While the Sisters of Saint Joseph are grateful for your appreciation of their spirit and good works, we are longing for more than admiration. We are longing for you to be one with us, God and all our dear neighbors. Join us in “exploration into God”— not through big projects, but by building daily relationships of reverence through the practice of non-violence.

Pope Francis wrote this message for the 50th World Day of Peace on January 1, 2017:

On this occasion, I would like to reflect on nonviolence as a style of politics for peace. I ask God to help all of us to cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values. May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promotors of nonviolent peacemaking. In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms. Violence is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world. At worst, it can lead to death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not all.

“All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers.” [24] In 2017, may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home. “Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace.” [25]

With Pope Francis, with you, we, Sisters of Saint Joseph, can say, “Thank God we have one another, this mission and our ever faithful God to help us be more great-hearted than we dared to dream, ask or imagine.

Rita Woehlcke SSJ ministers as Director of SSJ Associates in Mission.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Our Mission Together

Some of the students with whom I was studying 
I have just completed a month of studying French in Lyon, France (thank you to my Congregation for funding the studying).  While studying I lived with a community of Sisters of St Joseph of Lyon.  It was a total immersion for me in the French language and culture.  As I have reflected on what it meant to me to live in a different culture and try to communicate in a different language
Learning to make crepes in French
(emphasis on try), I realized something that is pretty significant to me.  Every evening I engaged in three activities with the sisters, we prayed together, we ate together and we watched the news together.

Together when we prayed the office I struggled mightily to understand what page we were on- numbers are very hard for me to comprehend once you get past 99.  During my time to read, I slaughtered the pronunciation.  Sometimes when we were offering prayers, I could understand what the sisters were sharing but often not.  I might have wondered what the purpose was of attending these prayers when I could understand so little and I really wondered why they didn’t just say I didn’t need to read since what I read was so poor that it really disrupted the flow.  However, I found I both looked forward to and dreaded (my pronunciation was really, really bad) this time together.

In the middle of my studies, my community was invited to join with a Lyon community of the Sisters of the Institut (part of the congregation in Le Puy.  We had a time to visit, had an afternoon tea and then prayer together.  I could follow about 1/3 of the conversation.  However, there came a time when
Visiting with the Sisters
we were talking about mission and the importance of the many things that were happening in the world and how we were responding.  At that time, I think I understood the essence of everything that was being said.  It was quite profound because I knew that they were not talking more slowly or using words that my 4 year old vocabulary could understand…but I knew that we were sharing the essence of who we were together…and I could even say a few simple things to add to the conversation.
After that I think I understood why the praying together in a way that is so different from what I usually do in the US was so meaningful.  It is where our togetherness is deeply felt and shared and our commitment to mission is nurtured.

That leads me to think about my life with the sisters in St Louis.  For several years now, the sisters at the mother house (about 20 of us) gather monthly for sharing of the heart and the order of the house.  Over time the sharing has become deeper and I honestly believe that the atmosphere of the house has deepened too.  Now I would articulate what I have been sensing for a while, it is when we are together in prayer or in conversation, whether we understand what is being said or not, it is when we recognize in each other the vital connections that we have, that we more fully understand our mission together.
My local community in France

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Women’s Day Celebration
I received this account of the Women's Day celebrations at a non-profit that empowers women and girls through education and vocational training which our Sisters of St Joseph of Lyon work at in India.
Sr. Sherly the Chief Coordinator of this non-profit had this to share with those present for the
International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on March 8, recognizing and appreciating women’s political, economic and social achievements over the decades.
 This year’s theme is Be Bold for Change. Planet 50/50 by 2030. 
On this occasion, we should endeavour building a better world where men and women live harmoniously, free of violence and discrimination.”
There was a farmer who found a warm egg in an eagle’s nest, about to hatch.  He took it and put it among his hen’s eggs for hatching.  Pretty soon the eggs hatched and the tiny chicks came out and followed the mother, imitated her and tried to be like her. The baby eagle also believed that she was a chick and behaved like one. The mother hen saw and knew that one of her chicks was different, but was afraid to acknowledge it.  The baby eagle, all her life, believed she was a hen and behaved like one. Then one day she saw a beautiful, powerful eagle soaring high up into the sky with her powerful wings. The hen eagle looked up and wistfully
said, I wish I could soar into the sky so high like the eagle.” In my next birth I would like to be born an eagle”; not realizing her own, strength, power and abilities as an eagle.
Many of us women also believe we are hens, when in reality we are eagles. Only, we never believe we are capable of doing so much more.
During the past 20 years, we have witnessed remarkable advances in promoting the human rights and dignity of women and girls and their full and equal participation in society. Let us continue with more zeal and enthusiasm to build a society where the women and girls share equal opportunity in all the levels.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Nazareth CSJs Well-Represented at Women’s Marches

This blog was written by Olga Bonfiglio, an Associate with the Congregation of St Joseph

Several Nazareth sisters and associates attended Women’s Marches, including the march in Washington, D.C. where 120 CSJs were present from across the Federation as well as in Lansing, Kalamazoo and Albuquerque, NM.

Sisters Rita Ann Teichman and Sarah Simmons went to DC
from Kalamazoo by bus which left on Friday at 8 p.m. and arrived in Washington at 7:30 a.m.

“It was a mixed group of women: young, middle aged, older—a few even in their 80s!” said Sister Rita Ann. “One librarian from Notre Dame gathered a group to ride with us, and there were three husbands, too.”

Sister Rita Ann said she could feel the energy of the march the minute she stepped off the bus at JFK Stadium, 2.5 miles from the gathering point in front of the Capitol.

“Immediately, I realized we were involved and participating in something so much bigger than ourselves,” said Sister Rita Ann, who with Sarah donned a pink hat that her sister-in-law had crocheted for them both.

Part of the walk was through a residential neighborhood where homeowners placed signs on their front lawns that displayed quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy.
People were selling pink hats and t-shirts and march participants carried signs as they made their way to the Capitol.

“You were immersed in an environment of justice, relationship and love,” said Sister Rita Ann who added that the negative and vulgar signs were very few—and Madonna’s inflammatory speech rare.

For security reasons, participants were allowed to carry only a purse no bigger than a fanny pack, so the sisters stuffed peanut butter sandwiches in their coat pockets, brought their cell phones and a little money.

Once they reached their destination at the Capitol, Sister Rita Ann said that she felt swept up in a mass of humanity where people were converging from all four directions.

“We tried to find the CSJ Federation, but couldn’t,” she said.

Although 200,000 people were expected for the march, about one million people showed up. As a result, it was sometimes even difficult for the Nazareth duo to stick together in the crowd.

The speeches were likewise incredible as they addressed the issues of women, health care, the Earth, equality and others, said Sister Rita Ann. She especially appreciated Michael Moore, Gloria Steinem and singer, songwriter, pianist and actress Alicia Keys.

“They were all about justice, peace, women, men, unity, immigration—what America is supposed to be about and what we were about that day.”

The bus ride back home was more subdued since people were exhausted. Sister Sarah recorded 23,000 steps on her Fitbit. The driver congratulated the women and said they “did a great job today.”

Upon their return to Nazareth, the elderly sisters greeted Sisters Rita Ann and Sarah with wishes of solidarity, prayer and curiosity about their experiences.

In reflecting on the experience, Sister Rita Ann said that she now realizes in a more expansive way that the participants were standing up, standing for, standing with those who this administration and Congress might stand against. 

“The march was a moment and now we must continue to choose and act on ways to move forward together,” said Sister Rita Ann Teichman. “I think that’s why the people were there on all these marches not only in Washington, DC, but the various sister marches.”

According to the Women’s March on Washington website ( there were about 700 sister marches across the USA and in 81 countries totaling nearly 5 million participants.

“The new president’s inaugural speech focused on ‘America first’ agenda
for our economy, prosperity, borders, etc.,” said Sister Rita Ann. “But that’s not the America that I know. What we’re about is solving the problems of poverty, unemployment, immigration together. What this means for our congregation is that we’ll be called upon to speak to the new president and the Congress and we must continue to be there for others whenever there is a need for our voice to be heard.”

In Lansing, 8,000 participants (according to the Lansing State Journal) showed up and the mood was reportedly similar to the DC march. People wore the march’s signature pink hats and they carried signs that promoted women’s rights, health care rights, ending racism and care for the Earth. Participants were orderly, smiling and without anger. There were a lot of children there, too. One of the speakers was former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, who is running for governor of Michigan in 2018 along with a music group also played for the crowd.

At the end of the demonstration, a group of 300-400 Michigan State University students walked around the Capitol building three or four times.

“There was a lot of positive energy,” said Sister Marie Hogan. “People were there for the issues that mattered to them and as different speakers spoke, people cheered.”

Sister Marie was inspired to see so many marches going on during the day.

“Being with so many people who wanted people to be taken care of gave me hope that people will stand up for these rights should the current administration try to take them away,” she said.

Sister Mary Ellen Gondeck also attended the Lansing march and served on the Peace Team, a group of 40 volunteers who wore yellow shirts to identify themselves as peacekeepers during the demonstration.

There were only two incidents that were quickly quelled by police without further trouble, said Sister Mary Ellen. They were white men waving anti-Trump signs.

“To be on the Peace Team was inspiring,” she said. “We received training and knew what to do. We were confident being out among the crowd. Participants knew who we were and seemed to feel safe seeing us there, too.”

On the night of the Inauguration, Sister Mary Ellen attended the Candlelight Vigil sponsored by Peace House, a local intentional community based on the Catholic worker house model. Between 400-500 people attended the vigil, which was 60 minutes long where people stood together in Bronson Park, the city’s central public space, with lighted candles. They talked quietly together and stood with signs.

Sister Kit Kaiser attended and carried the sign that said: “Stand for Love.” Other signs read: “Be peace.”

“This was not an anti-Trump rally,” said Sister Mary Ellen. “It was all about solidarity for peace and love.

“It was really encouraging for me to know that there were so many other people who attended the vigil and not just Peace House people and friends that you’d expect to be there,” she said. “We also talked about how we could go forward and what we could do to build a positive environment.”

While Sister Mary Ellen was disappointed that there were not more African Americans and Hispanics at the Kalamazoo vigil or the Lansing women’s march, such was not the case in Albuquerque, NM, where Sister Brigetta Slinger attended a march of 10,000 people and white people were a minority.

“There were all genders, all races, all religions, all sexual orientations present,” said Sister Brigetta. “It was a first time for me where I was a minority.”

Native Americans performed dances and Hispanics offered prayers in Spanish.

Hispanics in that region are especially vulnerable because of the immigration issue and the city’s proximity to the US-Mexico border.

“We all came from different places,” she said, “and we do not want to close our doors or build walls.”

In truth, Albuquerque is filled with illegal residents. Sister Brigetta found this an issue when she worked with the schools. Children were afraid to go home and find their parents missing because of deportation. The Dreamers, now, are especially vulnerable since they are identified.

“The issue of the march was that we, the people, will not tolerate inequality, or prejudice,” she said. “No one can come into office and take our freedoms away. This is what we as Americans stand for as a democracy.”

Sister Brigetta said the Albuquerque march was very peaceful as was the march in Santa Fe and several little cities in the state. There were no arrests or incidents of violence.

“What I took away from this march was the wonderful feeling of powerfulness in the sense that we are strong when we stand together,” said Sister Brigetta. “We can do this so that all humanity can be free if only we stand up and use our voices to say ‘we the people, are all important and accepting of all.”

In fact, many signs reflected that sentiment with “Estamos juntos” (we are all one together) and “Sí, se puede” (yes we can make a difference).

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Felipe Stole My Heart

During my short stay of two weeks in El Paso, literally hundreds of migrants came to Casa Nazareth for hospitality. Nazareth is one of four sites in the area where Immigration and Border Patrol personnel drop off migrants for 24 to 48 hours while arrangements are made for them to travel to their family or friends who have agreed to receive them. Only adults with children are released there. They come tired, hungry, timid and fearful with babes in arms or toddlers clinging to a mother or father. They usually have their belongings stuffed in a flimsy garbage bag or a worn-out tote bag. They left their homeland weeks ago fleeing danger, drugs, and dire poverty. They desperately hope for a better future here.
Migrant mothers and children pray at the nativity
 scene at the Casa Nazareth shelter in El Paso

Casa Nazareth is scheduled to receive migrants on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but both weeks I was there they came on Thursday as well, numbering anywhere from 80 to 120 persons. When the migrants arrive, we gather them in a common area and give them a warm welcome. We assure them we are not connected with immigration, and they are safe with us and will be treated with respect and dignity as our guests. We provide them with a bed, clean sheets and blankets, a set of clean, although used, clothing, toiletries, a shower and nutritious meals. We phone their families and help them arrange for their travel in the states. We get them to the airport or bus station with a care package that contains food for the journey, which sometimes lasts two or three days on the Greyhound. In times of abundant donations, we might have a fleece travel blanket to give them and perhaps a stuffed animal for the child.

Families fleeing violence and poverty pray that they
 will find safety and welcome in the United States
It is unlikely we can remember their names after we send them on their way since there are so many of them and their stay is so short. However, I got to know Mauricio and his 7-year old son, Felipe, quite well since they were with us from Wednesday until Monday morning. During those days, Felipe, smiling all the while, trailed me wherever I went in the building, asking me if he could help and delighting in any little bit of attention. At times he was a nuisance and when he noticed I was preoccupied, he would dart away with an impish grin and slide gleefully down the long corridor. Felipe stole my heart those days.

I left El Paso for home on Monday and who did I see in the airport security line across from me but Mauricio and Felipe, all cleaned up and ready for their reunion with a relative in Chicago. Even with Mauricio’s ankle bracelet monitoring his every location and their complicated immigration papers, they got through security before I did. Felipe had noticed me two lanes over and kept waving and giving me that impish grin. After the final wave and grin, off they went to a different gate while I still waited in line for security to check my back pack. I wonder what will happen to them. I know that Mauricio is due in Immigration Court in Chicago in a few weeks. I understand that a high percentage of those we serve at the shelters in El Paso will eventually be deported. I am grateful for having encountered Mauricio and Felipe. I want their memory to stay alive for a long time and remind me of all migrants as children of God seeking a safe place to be.