News & Updates

Ministry at the Border update August 2023

Philadelphia IHM Sisters Linda Filipponi and Joan Rychalsky volunteered to serve migrants in McAllen, Texas, and Reynosa, Mexico, from July 22 to August 5.
Sisters Joan Rychalsky and Linda Filipponi stand in the midst of the migrant tents in Reynosa

Update by Sisters Linda Filipponi and Joan Rychalsky, Immaculata IHMs

Philadelphia IHM Sisters Linda Filipponi and Joan Rychalsky volunteered to serve migrants in McAllen, Texas, and Reynosa, Mexico, from July 22 to August 5. They lived and worked side-by-side with the core community of sisters who are part of the OSP-IHM Collaborative Mission and Ministry at the border.

Sister Joan Rychalsky

Sister Joan says this about her experience at the border:

Even though I was anticipating this trip to Texas to assist in this border ministry in some small way, I could never have imagined the basic reality of the migrants’ situation, the emotional impact of our ministry there and the wonderful blessings of this journey.

The reality of the migrants’ journey is overwhelming and heartbreaking. For those migrants who travel long distances to reach one of the border camps in Mexico, there is not only some relief in arriving at the border but also great anxiety in waiting to see if they will be allowed to cross the border. They could wait anywhere from a few weeks to a year. Their living conditions are challenging at best. Still, the migrants find joy in their families and fellow companions with whom they can share their circumstances, stories, concerns and hopes. The migrants enjoy when the sisters visit the camps because their presence brings hope, kindness, compassion, and empathy as well as periodic activities and crafts for the children. If and when the migrants receive permission to enter the US, staff and volunteers at the Humanitarian Respite Center endeavor to meet their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. They help them get in touch with their sponsors and arrange their travel.

Sister Joan Rychalsky teaches children in the Casa del Migrante in Reynosa, Mexico, how to make a pinwheel.

The emotional impact of watching all this unfold day by day was heart-rending as well as beautifully touching. I just wished I could do more to help these hopeful people reach their destinations. Some days, Linda and I worked on clothing request forms but it was especially fulfilling to us to volunteer at the Respite Center’s Pharmacy/Supply area. To experience their gratitude and joy in receiving such basic toiletries and medicine was most humbling. We might have touched their lives with some very basic supplies, but they touched our hearts with their warm gratitude and loving smiles.

Among the many blessings of this trip was the privilege of spending time with these beautiful people and their children. We saw how little they have but also observed their struggles, hopes, dreams and goodness. Hopefully, our actions demonstrated our compassion and care. Their plight reinforced our awareness of the many blessings we enjoy each day and often take for granted. Another gift of our ministry here was experiencing God’s providential care when we needed it most; i.e. Not knowing any Spanish and a language translation chart appeared just in time to help us meet the basic requests of hundreds of migrants. Lastly, we merely passed through the lives of these migrants for a short time, but they will live in our thoughts and prayers forever.

Sister Joan Rychalsky teaches children in the Casa del Migrante in Reynosa, Mexico, how to make a pinwheel.

Sisters Linda Filipponi

Reflecting on those two weeks, Sister Linda writes:

Even to begin to reflect on my experience at the border ushers in a flood of emotions, but I will simply focus on one image that had its greatest impact on me – and that is the faces of the children. For many reasons they quickly became and continue to be a meditation for me. The beauty, brightness and depth that shone through their eyes and smiles was remarkable. I marveled that, after all they had been subjected to, they could look this beautiful – even as they walked shoeless around the dirty floors of the Respite Center in Texas and gliding their newly crayoned butterflies through the air around the encampment among the tents in Mexico. In their innocence and their trust in their parents’ love, and in all of us who cared for them, they knew a sense of security and of being loved. They stirred my soul!

Then, there were the children who looked lonely. On my first visit to the Respite Center, I saw a little girl sitting next to her father, crying as he tried to encourage her to eat the warm meal that was provided for them. When I walked up to her, to try to console her, her father looked up at me and said that “she misses her mother.” I asked Rose if she had anything that I could give her. She gave me a small, beaded bracelet and I offered it to her, but she remained sad. I wished that there was something more that I could do for her.

The next day, Joan, Rose, and I went to Omega 99 (Think Dollar Tree!) and bought as many colorful hair ribbons and bows as they had in hopes of brightening the faces of the little girls!

Our desire in Texas had been to bring some small amount of help, joy, and hope to the migrants we met there. By clipping hair ribbons on the heads of the little girls, we hoped to help ease some of the trauma they experienced in the most deplorable and dire of circumstances. We had hoped to see more smiles on the faces of the children—and their loving parents—and fewer lonely children “missing their mothers.”

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