One of the commitments of the Dominican Sisters of Peace is to “Promote justice through solidarity with those who are marginalized.” In the United States today, among those marginalized are immigrants and refugees – people fleeing their home countries in search of safety.
We support immigrants and refugees in many ways.
We welcome those who are new to our country, housing refugees in St. Catharine, providing education in our learning centers, and helping families cope with the challenges of settling into a new country and a new culture.
In December 2018, Dominican Sisters of Peace answered the call to welcome the stranger by volunteering at Annunciation House, a house of sanctuary, welcome, and assistance for those entering the US at the southern border in El Paso. Annunciation House is completely staffed and run by volunteers, and many people of faith have been part of its ministry,
Sisters Barbara Kane, Doris Regan, Roserita Weber, Imelda Schmidt, and Mary Vuong have traveled to El Paso to volunteer at Annunciation House, and have shared with us the journey of a refugee, from entering Annunciation House to departing for life with a sponsor.
When a person or family checks into Annunciation House, they processed and assigned a bed. Each person is allowed to pick out one set of clothing, including a warm coat, which is a blessing in El Paso, where the temperature often drops below freezing this time of year. Each person also gets a hot shower to help them wash off weeks of travel.
Many people have sent material support to Annunciation House – clothing, food, blankets. Volunteers help sort these items so that they can be more easily distributed to those in need.
Refugees often arrive at Annunciation House hungry and tired. The detention centers do not provide much food for these people, who have been traveling for many days. Annunciation House offers simple, filling meals provided by donations and volunteers: fruit, cereal, and bread for breakfast, and sandwiches or comfort food for lunch and dinner.
Annunciation House volunteers work to help refugees find and travel to sponsors, who will help provide for them while their asylum claim is being processed. Here, Dominican Sisters of Peace Roserita and Doris work with refugees to arrange travel to sponsor locations. The refugees must notify their sponsor to let him/her that they are ready to travel, and transportation – bus, train or plane – and schedules must be coordinated so the refugee and sponsors can find each other.
Once travel has been arranged – usually in just one or two days – the new arrivals begin to prepare for their trip. In addition to the clothing they received at arrival, each person gets 2-3 sandwiches per day of travel plus fruit, candy, water, juice. If they are going to a cold place, they get a small blanket. Sisters Imelda and Mary helped pack lunch bags for refugees who are traveling to their sponsors.
More than just a hand at the table or a voice on the phone, our Sisters have been a friendly, welcoming face to Annunciation House guests as they prepare for life here in the US. These people have shown incredible courage just to get here, and now they are traveling into a country where everything is strange and new.
As his family was preparing to go to the airport, one little boy was heard to tell his stuffed lamb, “Don’t worry. It will be ok. I am here to take care of you.”
Our Sisters met many wonderful people at Annunciation House, including this family that spent the week working at the Pastoral Center. Mom was raised in Brazil, dad came from Ireland, and the boys were adopted from Guatemala.
After their time at Annunciation House, these refugees board trains, buses, and planes to travel to their new homes. Many are in an airport for the first time and are drawn to the festive Christmas displays. Hundreds of immigrants pass through El Paso’s airport every day. Airline, TSA, and Border Patrol employees have done their best to be helpful and kind.
The Sisters had a day off each Thursday. On January 3, they traveled to Tornillo, the tent city built to house children separated from their parents by ICE and the border patrol.