A Journey of the Heart

We get very little notice they are coming. The door opens and someone cries out, Families! The families are here!

We begin applauding, as those present at Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley’s Humanitarian Respite Center rush to greet the refugees arriving at Sacred Heart Church’s Community Center, in McAllen, TX. Our eyes meet, as I exclaim Bienvenidos! Welcome!  And we share a smile.

A young woman carrying her baby is among the first to enter. Each mothers, we open our arms to each other, kiss and embrace, holding one another for a moment. Then every person, young and old, embraces me.

A Brazilian father looks around and starts to cry, so happy to be here. Wiping his eyes, the tears just keep flowing. He and his son only have 30 minutes before they will board their bus north to Philadelphia. But it is time enough to get a quick bowl of soup and drink, a warm shower, and new sets of clothes and shoes for the two of them. A fresh start.

As they prepare to leave, I help his son pick out a book to read on their three-day trip.

Estoy tan agradecido, the father says. I am so appreciative, so very grateful.                 Dios los bendiga a todos! God bless you all!

A year ago, I came with women from St. John XXIII parish in Perrysburg, OH, to serve refugee families at the Franciscan Sacred Heart parish in McAllen, TX. During the one-week mission trip, I was looking to have my heart cracked open.


That’s how the journey of faith begins. Not knowing where He may lead, but trusting God’s grace and blessings will guide us, as we journey in the days ahead.

A year later, my heart continues to expand in love each day. I’ve learned, once our eyes are opened, we can’t turn our backs. We have new eyes to see and new ears to hear, if we are open and receptive to the presence of God around us, and are willing to open our hearts and respond to His invitations.

IMG_1386After his election, Pope Francis shared why he chose St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan order, as his namesake, “The young Francis understood true joy and riches do not come from the possession of material things, but are to be found in following Christ and serving others. We all need to look upon one another with the loving eyes of Christ, and learn to embrace those in need, to show our closeness, affection and love.”

During my time here, I’ve learned simple acts of kindness transform the world for someone in need. And hugs and kisses are the way we greet one another, and say goodbye, here in the Rio Grande Valley.

It’s a tradition I will carry with me when I leave.

Bendiciones y abrazos. Blessings and hugs.                                                                           Vamos con Dios. We go with God.

The Humanitarian Respite Center at Sacred Heart Church, McAllen, is open seven days a week, including holidays, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., or until the last refugee is served. For more information on volunteering or making a donation, please go to catholiccharitiesrgv.org
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