It’s not unusual for the Central American refugees crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States to develop colds and upper respiratory infections, especially after their extended stay in ICE’s (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) heavily air-conditioned detention centers.
And volunteers serving them at the Humanitarian Respite Center at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, TX, often succumb as well.
I was getting prescriptions filled at the closest HEB grocery, having spent the good part of three hours at a primary care clinic. My attempts at successful self-care for what I hoped was a cold, were short-lived and mitigated by a relapse and recurring fever. I am very grateful Sr. Norma Pimentel led me to seek medical care.
An examination and chest x-ray led to injections of Rocephin and Dexamethasone, and prescriptions for a Z-pack and albuterol inhaler. Even though my kids occasionally used inhalers growing up, I hadn’t myself, so I appreciated the pharmacist’s counsel on how to use one.
Maybe it was the amethyst cross I wore that prompted him to come from behind the counter to help me find the appropriate OTC treatments to complement what the doctor had ordered, sparking a conversation. He wondered how I had gotten so sick, so fast. And if I was prone to such URIs.
That led to me sharing the experiences of a mission trip women from my church made this summer to McAllen, Texas, to serve the Central American refugees seeking asylum in the United States. Many of us came back with URIs that took dedicated antibiotic treatment. And the resultant leap of faith I made in answering God’s call to serve where he had led me ~ to Sr. Norma and the mission work of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley at Sacred Heart Church.
I learned he, too, was rediscovering and renewing his Catholic faith. But he lamented the lack of inspiration he felt in his recent return to the Church. How he looked around the Church he had attended his entire life, yet felt as if he knew no one there, except his parents who sat beside him.
I shared how blessed and grateful I was to have found a faith community whose core values of Reverence, Hospitality, Invitation and Outreach, had sparked and nurtured my year of spiritual transformation. The Mass for me now was a celebration of faith I looked forward to each day, culminating in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. But I, too, here in the Valley, was missing the sustaining community of faith I had grown close to. For I’ve come to know people joining together, engaged in this spiritual journey with each other, make the Church.
Fortunately my parish is a high-tech church, so I can join in the celebration of Mass in Ohio each week. And I showed him the wealth of spiritual resources on the Saint John XXIII Catholic Community website and phone app.
We discussed how these ministries, meeting people where they were along their journey’s way, could and would spark a renewed faith in Catholics across the Valley and the country. How Pope Francis, who through his example, was spreading The Joy of the Gospel, and re-awakening Catholics’ desires to return to the flock and inspiring people of all faiths to serve the poor in our midst.
“Once God opens our eyes,” I said, “We can’t turn our backs.” For me, the journey began with a heartfelt conversation with God he prompted. “We just need to be open and receptive to the presence of God around us, and be willing to open our hearts and respond to his invitations.”
He told me his father had given him the The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life. He’s the third person I know to be currently reading this book by James Martin, SJ, here in the Valley. I shared how I had taken to opening the book at random, trusting I’d find the very advice I needed to hear in that moment, and lauded him for nurturing his own faith journey.
“Baby steps,” he said. “Mere baby steps.”
But that’s how the journey of faith begins. With those initial baby steps.
Not knowing where they may eventually lead, but trusting that God’s grace and blessings will be with us and guide us as we journey in the days ahead.
All we have to do is start the journey.