News

For further information on any of the news items listed here, please contact Alice Black, PhD, OPA, Director of Communications & Mission Advancement, at 614-416-1020.


 

From the Border

Blog by Sr. Norah Guy, OP

Having spent only two weeks in El Paso at the border and by no means an expert on the historical or political underlying events that have led to what is now a crisis of humanity, I am sharing this brief reflection on where my heart is at this time.  I am back in Boston now for less than one week and am still trying to unpack all of what I saw, and especially what I felt and still feel about the trip.

As background, the crisis at the border in El Paso, as I now understand it, was precipitated when the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency released roughly 400 immigrants who were stranded at El Paso’s Downtown Greyhound bus station late in the day on December 23, 2018.  No notice of this release was given to city or county leaders.  The local government was naturally unprepared and overwhelmed by this situation.   The refugees themselves were just lost.  Most, if not all, were non-English speaking, had little money and were carrying all their belongings in clear trash bags.  They were also holding close to their hearts or bundled on their backs, their children, infants, and toddlers.

The mayor of El Paso was desperate to find help and reached out to a well-known Catholic justice activist living in El Paso, Ruben Garcia.  Ruben immediately set out to contact every church and organization in the area as well as local business leaders, food distributors, and medical personnel.   The response was tremendous and the outpouring of help and support on that December evening was remarkable.  All the newly released refugees were fed, and most, but not all, were placed in temporary housing locations that night.  Ever since that night, the mantra of Annunciation House has been that “No refugee will be left on the streets.” I would add to that statement that, “All refugees will be treated with great dignity, compassion, and love,” because that is what I experienced as a volunteer.

As you read in Joye Gros’ blogs, we prepared breakfasts and lunches and helped to find a change of clothing from bags and boxes of donations. We also made hundreds of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to send along with the refugees as they headed by bus, train or plane to their new homes in America.

Joye, JoAnna Magee, OPA, and I lived in El Convento, owned by the Sisters of Loretto.  The convent housed women religious and associates from many congregations and communities from all over the United States.  Although we were all serving in different centers and did not gather each day when we did meet it was a time to share our experiences good and not so good. Most days it seemed that we would be able to have a good laugh at ourselves and someone in the group would be able to share a really happy story about their ministry that day.  One of the sisters dubbed us “The Sisters Gray Brigade.” And you know what?  That was an honest description of who we were.

The other part of the story was told by the refugees themselves.  They were held in detention cells with as many as 17 others, sleeping on the floor with only a blanket to cover them. They were given a glass jar to use for a toilet, and semi-defrosted burritos to eat. These men, women, and children were held in these conditions from 4 to 7 days before being released.  While in the holding centers each adult was fitted with a very large ankle bracelet so that they could be located at any time.  The bracelet was so big that many of the refugees had to cut the leg of their pants in order to change or remove their pants.  Before leaving the border detention center, the refugees were warned not to remove the ankle bracelet.  If they did, they would be arrested, deported and would never be allowed to enter the United States again.  When questioned about how long they were to wear this bracelet, the answer was consistent, – “I don’t know.”  I wondered as I watched them walk around the center with this large ankle bracelet if it was a deliberate way to make people they would meet along the way feel uncomfortable and cautious around them.

When the refugees were finally released from the border detention center, they were transported to our center in large white buses driven by a uniformed border guard and with a second armed border guard riding along with them.  When they came off the busses, they were silent, queuing up and just waiting to be given directions as to where they should go and what they should do.

All of the refugees were tired-looking; the face of a group of people who had just been worn down.  Many of the adults and children were not well.  Colds and stomach issues were common.  Several of the children came to the center with such high fevers that they were taken to the local children’s hospital for immediate treatment.  Other children who were less seriously ill were seen by a local doctor who generously volunteered his services and fitted them into his office schedule.  Thank God JoAnna Magee was with us.  She helped so many who needed her expert nursing skills and was able to diagnose the case and advise what was needed to help people just to feel a little better.   Headaches, sore throats, cuts, colds, and lines of waiting patients became her daily ministry.

To be honest with you, when I close my eyes, I can still see the faces of many of the hundreds of people I was honored to serve.  I think once they knew that they were safe and would be going “home” to family, some of the anxiety and perhaps even the fear they felt, was somewhat diminished.  At least that is my fervent prayer.

My struggle with what I saw and experienced remains with me because I deeply feel that our government leaders have by their actions, wounded the very integrity of what our country has always stood for.  When people are seeking refuge from hatred, brutality, and political abuse, I believe we as Americans should not add to their suffering and fear but embrace them and hold out to them a hand of welcome and a promise of freedom.  For me, I think it may take some time to be able to have the same depth of pride and the feeling of joy that I have had in being an American.

I know that immigration is only one issue among many urgent issues that must be examined in our country and in the world today.  I am grateful to the Congregation that I have had the opportunity to begin to prayerfully reflect on one of these issues, the Immigration crisis.

Posted in Just Reflecting, News

The Power of ONE Word

Blog by Sr. Rosemary Loomis, OP

It could have been a disaster. One word would have corrupted the project. But it didn’t happen – thanks to an honest conversation.

Last year, I wrote a children’s story featuring female white squirrels and the life skills the mother teaches her daughter. All generations of these albino squirrels were called Whitey. The story itself is not flawed; however, the original title was. You see, I had called it “Lessons from Whitey.”

During a massage with Adrienne, my African-American therapist, I mentioned the story and its title. I noticed a definite change in touch when I said the word “Whitey.” I immediately told her to stop and to tell me what had just happened – and yet, I already knew because something also changed for me. She knew that the title was based on the name of the squirrels, and still found it to be very offensive to her and to all African-Americans. And so, we talked. It was an in-depth and wonderful conversation about racism.

“If you were to see this title in a bookstore or library, what would you do?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t touch it, let alone open it, and would probably ask the owner or librarian why they had the book in their children’s collection,” she answered.

Instantly I had the new title: “Lessons from Mama.“ “This title would pique my curiosity about the lessons Mama had to teach. I would definitely check it out,” she said excitedly. I gave her the manuscript to check for any other possible offensive or confusing words, and happily, she found none. It’s interesting that I had been questioning the title for several months, feeling that it might be greatly misunderstood. Adrienne confirmed my suspicions. “Lessons from Mama” was saved!

We often talk about the power of words. They can build up or tear down; they can reveal or conceal; they can offer hope or intimidate. It’s why we have to choose our words carefully. We make choices with our words – and I chose to change ONE word, which has made all the difference.

Lessons from Mama will be available from SisterRosiesBooks@oppeace.org in March 2019.

Posted in Just Reflecting

A Labor of Love

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

I intended to write about another subject this month, but I did not have enough time to do the research it would require, and I just was not “feeling it”, so another time….

Instead, I write about what I am really feeling— and that is a great excitement and gratitude for completing a project we started three years ago. This week, we launched the electronic edition of “Dominican Praise, a Provisional Book of Prayer for Dominican Women”.  It is a new e-book edition of the Liturgy of the Hours, which was first published in 2005 by eight Dominican congregations in the US.

It was a project with every reason to fail. We had many moments when we could have given up in the face of naysayers, software glitches, tedious, monotonous work, anxiety about whether we could actually do it and worries about whether or not anyone would actually want it. (Ok, we could not imagine anyone not wanting this book). Here we are now at the launching pad, the countdown is complete and the rockets have fired. For the next few months, word will get out and we hope that many Dominicans will discover this beautifully-written treasure.

In addition to the acknowledgments of the many sisters previously listed in the 2005 original edition of Dominican Praise, I want to express my deep gratitude to a number of sisters and lay partners who carried this project for many months amidst other responsibilities and demands. In particular, I want to thank the members of the Mission Advancement and Communications Office of the Dominican Sisters of Peace who worked on this in a number of ways. Ashley Apollonio created the electronic edition from original digital files, designed the cover, and other innumerable contributions. Ashley is responsible for the look and feel of the book and in many ways, this was her baby. Ashley, we are so proud of your work!

Alice Black, Ph.D., OPA, tirelessly shepherded the electronic conversion software requirements and found ways around obstacles, roadblocks and errant software code. Mary Ellen George, OPA, helped to proofread. Sr. Honora Werner, OP, Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, NJ, made sure the chant markings were correct, a tedious labor of love. Sisters Judene Lillie, OP, and Denise Bourgeois, OP, helped clarify some copyright permissions.

My role was to keep the project moving, seek and acquire copyrighted reprint permissions, and provide the guidance and leadership needed to bring it to completion. Tom Henry edited and enhanced my video tutorials and polished them to an attractive shine. Finally, we are indebted to the Leadership Team who gave invaluable support and encouragement to everyone who collaborated in its completion.

The electronic edition of Dominican Praise offers up the beauty and soaring language of the psalms to new generations and new Dominican audiences. It makes the original edition accessible in a new and broad way and our hope is that members of our English-speaking Dominican community will find inspiration in its pages.

The Dominican Praise e-book is available for Android and Apple devices on Kindle through Amazon.com. You can use it on a tablet, iPad, or smartphone. Font sizes and styles are adjustable, bookmarks, highlighting and other Kindle features make it easy to navigate. Be sure to use the tutorials at www.oppeace.org to know how to find your way around the book.

Enjoy!

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word

A Series of Blessed Encounters

Sr. Joye Gros, OP is currently on a 2-week mission serving refugees in El Paso, TX.

In 2014, Diego Fares, SJ, wrote THE HEART OF POPE FRANCIS:  A NEW CULTURE OF ENCOUNTER.  He described how Pope Francis called for a culture of encounter.

How ‘Gospel’ of Francis. Francis not only speaks of this but he demonstrates it.  He not only calls us to preach this way of living the message of Jesus but challenges us to live it by our actions.  His iconic words are more than metaphorical.

As Joanna Magee, Norah Guy and I approached this two weeks of ministry at the border, Francis’ Gospel challenge rang in our ears.

It was easy to be overwhelmed by the crowds (they arrived by the dozens each day).  However, we tried to make each encounter personable.  Sometimes it was helping a family pick out fresh, clean clothes.  We rejoiced when the garment not only fit, but was an item that matched their tastes.  One 3-year-old girl found a pair of pink sneakers that she wanted – but they didn’t fit (Remember Cinderella?).  Mom, however, found white ones that did fit, sparking a tug-of-war that I sympathetically (and wisely) let mom handle. It was a moment of encounter!

When other responsibilities allowed, we met the people departing the buses and arriving at our shelter with a warm handshake and a welcome: “Bienvenido” or “hola”.  It was in the eyes….the warmth and the welcome.  A moment of tender encounter!

There were two trips when Norah and I brought children and parents to the Emergency Room.  Nurse Joanna trusted them to our care and received them when we returned.  A moment of encounter!  When dad and baby were preparing to leave, they came to say goodbye and ‘Muchas Gracias.’  A moment of grateful encounter!

Though I could speak only minimal Spanish and ‘medicaleze,’  I bonded quickly with two young moms with sick babies as we sat in the doctor’s office.  The next day we celebrated the effectiveness of the meds – their babies were so much better.  Then we got to ‘shop’ for sweaters for their children.  We even found jackets for each mom!  We rejoiced in common language-smiles, cheers, and clapping.  A moment of celebratory encounter!

Posted in News

Doing the Right Thing

Tucson Star columnist and cartoonist David Fitzgerald prepared this article about Casa Alitas, where our Sr. Esther Calderon will be ministering to the refugees seeking asylum.

I met Teresa Cavendish, director of operations from Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, out back, behind the Benedictine Monastery on Country Club.

Since 2014, Casa Alitas has served over 6,000 souls, working out of bus stations, classrooms, group homes, hotels and now at the old monastery, sending refugees on their way to the custody of their sponsors. Casa Alitas means House of Little Wings.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement van arrives and Teresa alerts a volunteer to come out and greet the new refugees. Two agents step out and greet Teresa. One opens the side door.

The monastery housing Casa Alitas.

Families emerge and gather in front of Sister Eileen Mahoney who has come out to greet them.

Some smile. Most are anxious, holding on to their children tight. They appear innocent, naive and weary. Women wear their black hair in ponytails, held in place by tinfoil strips which they tore from the tinfoil blankets they were given when their hair ties were confiscated. Shoelaces, too.

Each carries all of their worldly belongings in a large clear Ziploc bag with their name on it. I thought of the storage sheds we fill with excess abundance. I’m staring because I cannot imagine my world distilled into a bag. Their clothes and lace-less shoes are worn but clean. They carry their dignity on their shoulders, and their vulnerability in their hearts.

If you feel your job is threatened by these simple souls, I pity your pathetic insecurity. If you fear these innocents, I pity you for your cowardice. If you hate them, I pity you for your ignorance.

The refugee families are welcomed by Sister Mahoney. “Esta su casal,” she says. They see the sanctuary. They are collectively relieved. One young man sees refugee children playing among the trees. He quietly asks Sister Mahoney, “Libre?” Sister Mahoney smiles. “Yes. Libre. We are not the Government .” This is a place of safety and hope!

“You will get a health check and a warm meal. We’ll check your documentation. You can call your sponsor. We will help you get to your hearing. You will have a safe place to sleep.” Sister directs them inside.

As a dad politely answers his intake counselor, his tiny daughter, wearing pigtails bound with tinfoil, colors superheroes in a coloring book. I study her tiny shoes. Shoes that have carried this child across deserts, jungles and mountains. So worn. I think of my granddaughter. She has a closet full of shoes.

Sr. Esther Calderon at Casa Alitas.

I eavesdrop on volunteers.

“Someone slashed the tires of some of the volunteers’ cars the other night.”

“What happened to that 80-year-old woman from Guatemala? Can you believe she made it all this way by herself?”

“And then to Homestead, Florida!”

A sunny clothing bank volunteer tells me he enjoys finding “the warmest coats” among the racks for refugees heading to cold climates. “It’s the only coat they’ll own!”

I remember a Sunday school lesson in my past. One most of us have forgotten.

Pediatrician Dr. Richard Wahl says, “I’ve been involved since October!” Wahl points to Teresa and says, “This woman shows up at my synagogue. Tells the story. I’m blown away!” They laugh.

“I’ve lived here since ’85. When I came here the first time I saw this a special place. Tucson is responding in ways that many cities do not!”

True. In other communities, such souls are simply abandoned by ICE at bus stations. Dr. Wahl has an email list of 140 medical colleagues he calls on when help is needed. He’s heartened by the generosity and kindness of his colleagues. Just ask and ye shall receive.

Volunteer Kristin Helland has a theory. “Being on the border in a multicultural place – it opens people’s hearts. It’s amazing. They trained 200 volunteers in about a week!”

In less than three weeks they have helped over 600 refugees to their final destination. Teresa tells me, “We have 50 rooms, and we only take families. We only had one exception. A single man from Honduras with one eye gouged out and both arms hacked off above the elbows. Because he refused to sell drugs. Santos… he sang hymns. Beautifully!” Another volunteer nods.

A petite young mother from Guatemala watches her boys play outside. They’re heading to Atlanta to work on a peach farm. They walked across Mexico, spent 12 days in a detention center and when I ask her what she hopes for she looks at me like I’m a very silly man as she looks to her children. I’m asking her to state the obvious.

A little boy on a tricycle races toward me. “Knuckle blast,” I say. He holds out his tiny fist. Our knuckles meet, our hands fly back in a mock explosion and he smiles.

It took one father and his 16-year-old son 15 days to walk across Mexico. I can’t get my teenager to walk around the block with me. Near the border, they were robbed by bandits. Penniless, they joined a group of 300 who crossed at San Luis where they were picked up. They spent the last seven days sleeping on the floor of a detention center before coming here. Here the gangs can’t threaten to kill him and his son if he doesn’t pay.

A mother and son were decapitated in front of him. Teresa says, “We’re here because we don’t want to be part of what these folks are running from fear and anger!’

Another van arrives. Back outside, a joyful young woman, Ali Hofer, cheerfully greets the newest arrivals. She instructs them, comforts them, and shepherds them inside. Why is she here? “I’m with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps!” She smiles as she explains, “Sort of like AmeriCorps for Catholics!”

I’m in awe of this selfless, beatific kid. What about the desperation she sees? “It can be overwhelming. Heartbreaking. You can’t help everybody. If I help one person it’s a victory!”

Why do this? She turns to her flock. “It’s the right thing to do!”

Posted in News