For the past three years, the Humanitarian Respite Center--created to provide a way-station for asylum seekers from Central American countries moving through McAllen, Texas--has been generously housed in the parish hall of Sacred Heart Church in McAllen.
Thanks in part to a Catholic Extension grant of $100,000, a new facility will be built to continue the work of the respite center, which has assisted more than 74,000 people since its creation in June 2014.
Cardinal Blase Cupich, chancellor of Catholic Extension, visited McAllen on Tuesday to witness the important work of the center and to present a plaque commemorating the grant to the center's leader Sister Norma Pimentel and the Diocese of Brownsville's Bishop Daniel Flores. The funds were raised at a benefit dinner at the Vatican organized by Catholic Extension on the occasion of Cupich's elevation to cardinal in November 2016.
"You have welcomed strangers and made them to feel like family," Cupich told the parishioners of Sacred Heart Church, during a Mass celebrating the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. "The immigrant is not a statistic. They have a story, a voice, a history."
The respite center mainly serves women and children who have traveled together as a family and have been paroled from detention centers while they await their asylum court hearing. This ministry provides welcomed relief and support, especially for those fleeing traumatic and life-threatening circumstances in their home countries.
"I accept this gift as a sign of the participation of Catholic Extension and Cardinal Cupich as being very much a part of this great venture, which is our common venture in the Church of giving witness to Christ, especially in the most vulnerable," said Bishop Flores, as the plaque was presented on the future site of the new respite center.
Many asylum seekers to the U.S. come from Central America, fleeing extreme violence and poverty. The three most represented countries are Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
The center, which is moving to an interim location until the new building is constructed, offers the following services to asylum seekers:
- Warm shower & bathroom facilities
- Beds (for those who have to spend the night)
- Clothes, shoes and infant essentials, such as diapers
- Phone services, so that asylum seekers can contact family members
- Safety courses on traveling and living in the U.S.
Cardinal Cupich praised the tireless work of Sister Norma and the volunteers who staff the respite center and help extend the Church's reach to the marginalized immigrant and refugee communities who pass through the center's doors each day.
"The Catholic Church has a very important role to humanize and put a face on the stranger and the vulnerable," he said, "especially those who suffer and whose dignity and rights are compromised or threatened."