Update Dec. 29, 2022: See Fr. Rafael Garcia, SJ, interview on CNN
By Ignatius Plato
Dec. 21, 2022 – Sacred Heart Church, the Jesuit parish in El Paso, Texas, has for years served as a beacon of hope for immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Recently, the parish has opened its doors to the flood of migrants entering the U.S. in anticipation of the end of U.S. Title 42. Parishioners are helping by contributing food, blankets and other needed items. They are offering their time and care to the immigrants who are sheltering overnight in the parish gymnasium.
Title 42 allows the federal government to limit immigration on the basis of public welfare. It was instated at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in an attempt to minimize the spread of the virus. This decision resulted in reduced migration into the U.S. at the southern border. Now, as Title 42 nears its end, migrants are massing in towns along the border, especially El Paso.
“Bishop (Mark) Seitz asked parishes in the area to open up, to volunteer, feed those coming into the country, care for them,” says Mary Baudouin, provincial assistant for justice and ecology for the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province, who volunteered at Sacred Heart Parish for several weeks.
Baudouin witnessed firsthand the impact that the immigrant influx is having. As the numbers have continued to rise, other parishes, the City of El Paso and area food bank have stepped in to provide meals, food staples and limited staffing for the shelters. Basic medicine, warm meals, water and clean clothes are a few of the necessities provided to those entering the country – acts of kindness during a tumultuous time.
The effort, Baudouin notes, is a touching display of generosity that she has not seen before in her many years of social ministry.
“The first night the shelter was open, there was a miscommunication between our parishes, and we didn’t have food for these people – people who have traveled and risked their lives to get here,” Baudouin recounts. “So we cobbled together a couple pots of soup, and I’m thinking, ‘How are we going to feed all these people?’ But every hungry person there got soup, and there was even a little left over!”
The immigrants themselves come with remarkable amounts of generosity and patience.
“These people we’re sheltering came into the kitchen to help cook,” she said. “They helped wash the tables after eating, help clean the bathrooms before they left in the morning. They want to help us still, even though we’re the ones who need considerably less help in our lives.”
Still, there is only so much that Sacred Heart can do to keep up with the immigrants’ needs as they arrive.
“Parishes in Kansas City, including St. Francis Xavier Parish, have received a busload of immigrants from El Paso, and the Archdiocese of St. Louis will accept a group in January,” says Baudouin. “How Sacred Heart and so many church groups have been meeting the needs of these people so far has been truly miraculous – but we still need lots of support to make this work in the long run.”
The immigration influx continues to pose a challenge for parishes along the U.S.-Mexico border. But the innate goodness demonstrated by so many provides hope during an uncertain time.
See more photos on our SmugMug page.