When Sarah Escobar packed her bags for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, she included a memento from her mother: a stone carved with the word “Faith.”
“Sarah’s mom said she gave it to her, and Sarah holds it near because she feels that she is grounded in her belief in God and in the fact that we are all connected in our humanity,” Pamela Madzy, the coordinator of the migrant ministry at Escobar’s hometown parish, told CNA.
The 20-year-old alpine skier from New Jersey may not have won gold during the Winter Games, but she did make history. Escobar is Ecuador’s first female athlete to compete in the Winter Olympics and carried the country’s flag during the opening ceremonies. Born in the U.S. to Ecuadorian emigrants, she claims dual citizenship.
The athlete competed in the women’s giant slalom on February 6 and 7.
Escobar, the sole athlete to represent Ecuador at the Winter Games, traveled to Beijing from St. Michael’s College in Vermont, where she studies psychology. But before Vermont, Escobar called New Jersey home — and attended St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Sparta with her family.
While there, she volunteered as a translator for the parish’s migrant helpline.
Madzy coordinates St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s faith-based migrant ministry, a Catholic Charity outreach project in the Diocese of Paterson. The ministry’s Spanish Helpline serves immigrant workers, she said.
“Sarah’s mother was one of the people who volunteered to answer the calls,” Madzy told CNA. “We rotate volunteers monthly and Sarah’s mother, Eleana Escobar, volunteered for about 8 years from 2011 to 2018.”
During that time, her two children, Sarah and Ethan, helped her.
“Their mom wanted them to not only practice their Spanish but to also understand the human difficulties immigrants must face and to learn empathy and compassion,” Madzy said.
Sarah, she added, helped her mother retrieve messages and served as a translator for those who did not speak Spanish.
“The helpline allows people to call and leave a message anytime day or night and our gifted bilingual volunteers would pick up the messages and relay them to me so the ministry would be able to obtain suitable assistance for the caller,” Madzy explained. “Our ministry focuses mostly on medical assistance, but we try to assist in every need that is brought to the helpline.”
One of the main reasons the Escobar family first chose to attend St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish, Madzy said, is because the parish offered Mass in Spanish. Then, they found out about the helpline.
Today, Sarah’s mother, Eleana, says that her daughter still volunteers periodically as a translator, Madzy added. And, she added, Sarah told her mother that she decided to represent Ecuador in the Olympics “as a connection to all immigrants.”
Madzy shared her excitement over Sarah competing in the Olympics.
“I was really very surprised when I saw her name in an article about the Olympics — I recognized her name and immediately sent a text out to her mother to confirm,” Madzy told CNA. “Then I immediately started to text everyone from the Helpline volunteer group and migrant ministry volunteers’ group.”
Eleana told them when Sarah was going to compete.
“I am sure if people were listening hard enough, they could have heard the roar coming from Sparta at about 9:30 PM Saturday night when Sara made her first run down the slope!” Madzy exclaimed. “We all are very proud and excited that she is an Olympian.”
Eleana was unable to travel with her daughter to Beijing due to COVID-19 policies, St. Michael’s Athletics reported. But she could watch with the knowledge that Sarah had her “Faith” stone.
“I think that is the connection to her mom since her mom could not go with her,” Madzy concluded. That, and her faith.