For the March 22 issue of Angelus, we interviewed Sister Norma Pimentel, MJJohn Allen, and Msgr. Eduardo Chavez — all of whom offered a glimpse at what they’ll be talking about the weekend of March 22-24.

When Sister Norma Pimentel, MJ, takes the stage at the 2019 Religious Education Congress to deliver the Spanish keynote address before hundreds of people, she may be stepping a little bit outside of her comfort zone.

Unlike many of the speakers at Congress, she is not used to this. Most of Pimentel’s time is spent attending to the needs of the hundreds of Central American migrants dropped off at the McAllen, Texas, bus station by federal authorities with little more than the clothes on their backs and an immigration court date. 

It isn’t an easy job, as Archbishop José H. Gomez saw up close when he traveled to the border with a delegation of brother bishops last summer to see the work done by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, which Pimentel leads as its executive director. 

When she isn’t at the Catholic Charities Respite Center in McAllen, Pimentel is often working quietly behind the scenes with city, state, and federal officials to find ways to help newly arrived migrants despite the precarious politics in Washington, D.C. 

Pimentel’s work at ground zero of today’s U.S. immigration crisis earned her Notre Dame’s prestigious Laetare Medal in 2018. And after seeing the situation in McAllen, it was enough to prompt Archbishop Gomez a few months later at the V Encuentro in Grapevine, Texas, to invite her to speak at this year’s Religious Education Congress. 

In her address, Pimentel will offer her reflection on this year’s theme, “Thirsting for Justice,” as it relates to her experience. 

How much has changed in McAllen, Texas — part of the border where you work — since that delegation of bishops visited last summer? 

Well, since the delegation of bishops visited last summer, we have come to experience increasing numbers of people, families, arriving every single day in great quantities. The numbers have increased and they have not stopped coming.

We also needed to move to a new location, and so we did. We moved to a larger space that was made available to us by a local business person who had a nursing home that he owned and was not in use. He said, “Sister, you use it for as long as you need it, at no cost.”

So we’ve been there since December, and it has worked out really well for us. The space is way larger than where we were when the bishops’ delegation visited us. So we’re very happy to be there. 

Although now we are asked by the city to relocate, so we’re in the process of identifying the next location.

When I first met you in Texas last year, it was eye-opening to see how much you and Bishop Daniel Flores (the bishop of Brownsville) are in frequent contact, not only with migrants, but also with the government officials. Do you see God working through them, too, in all this? 

Most definitely. I think that God works through all of us in so many ways. He brings us together to know how to work together and how to respond to the needs of his people. 

It’s important that we don’t see each other as opposites or as enemies, or as doing separate responsibilities, but that we all have a purpose and a responsibility to care for the people, for God’s people, and the city officials have big responsibilities to listen to and be informed by us, the Church, and the community, and to work together in this response. 

So I think that God is very present in all of us, and I think that brings out the best in others as well. I’m speaking of city officials that are also people of faith, and we all have a responsibility to live out our faith within the responsibilities and jobs that we have in our community. 

There are many people and organizations from different faith backgrounds, or even of no faith, that do a lot of good humanitarian work with immigrants and other disadvantaged communities. But what’s the difference when it’s done in the name of Jesus Christ, like Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley does? 

The difference is that we’re not just doing something good because it feels good, or because it’s my job. We’re doing something because we are moved by our faith to live out what the kingdom of God is here today, in our own life, here and now.  

It may seem like we’re doing the same thing, but our thrust and our reasons for being is moved by God, and why we are called to do what we’re doing in his name and for the betterment of the kingdom of God on earth. And so living that out is what gives more meaning and more significance to what we’re doing.

It’s not about me, it’s about God and his call to all of us to live out who we’re called to be and that’s what it is.

So would you say that doing this for the kingdom of God adds a different dimension to your work?

Yes, of course, because if we don’t — if we just simply do it because it’s me, Norma, doing it — it starts and finishes with me. But when it is about God, it becomes a part of God’s plan, it’s beyond me, it’s eschatological, and we become part of God’s plan, and it’s beautiful!

How does prayer help you, and how can it help other people who have a demanding mission in their life? 

I see prayer as the essence of marking the duration of what we need to do, who we are, and how our day will unfold before us.

Without prayer, it would just be about us, and about how we react to what we see and what we experience on a daily basis. Prayer focuses us and centers us in God, and helps us know that it is he who will move us forward to know what to say, and how to act, in every circumstance that will be ahead of us for the day.

Pablo Kay is the editor of Angelus.

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