Matthew 25 in Laredo, Texas

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

Matthew 25: 35- 36
small child

These words best describe my five-day experience serving the migrant people who arrived in Laredo, Texas—a stopping point in their journey to seek safety and hope of a better life in the United States. I spent these five days trying to be a welcoming presence to tired, hungry, and frightened people who, for reasons related to politics, economics, security, or climate change, took a risk to leave their familiar homeland to make a new home in an unfamiliar land.

For the people I met, the trip north had taken took nearly four weeks. I reflected upon what I was doing during that same time period: finishing up the school year, spending time with family and friends, and enjoying the longer days of the approaching summer – activities that are routine for me during the month of June. For the people I met, nothing was routine during this time. They faced uncertainty every day, unsure of what they would eat, where they would sleep, or who would protect them from danger.

 For I was hungry and you gave me food…

Hungry people waited patiently in line for food prepared by staff members at La Frontera, the shelter operated by Catholic Charities. One late afternoon, Sr. Margaret O’Doherty and I served food to one hundred people—soup and sandwiches that stretched just enough to feed everyone who was in line. It didn’t matter what we served. The people were so grateful to eat anything that would curb their hunger. I have never experienced hunger like that.

 For I was thirsty and you gave me a drink…

Laredo, Texas is hot and dry in the summer. The temperature reached 100 degrees by 4PM on many of the days I was there. When each bus arrived at the Holdings Institute (the shelter operated by the Methodist Church), the first thing people were offered was a bottle of water. Bottles upon bottles of water were distributed, and not a drop of water was wasted. The water seemed to revive the tired travelers and helped them to focus on the tasks they needed to do during their stay at the shelter. I will be mindful of the precious resource of water.

 I was a stranger and you welcomed me…

kids playing soccer

I believe being a welcoming presence was the most important dimension of our service to the migrants who arrived at the shelters in Laredo. Although some of our group did not speak Spanish very well, the people we encountered relaxed in our presence. Eye contact, a smile, a pat on the back, and a hug—the “languages of the heart”—were the ways we could reassure people that they were now safe. As the hours passed, travelers and volunteers became familiar with each other. Playing games and sharing in the chores helped forge connections that reduced the loneliness and anxiety people were experiencing. I know how a warm welcome can put someone at ease!

 I was naked and you clothed me…

The Ropa Room was a sought-after spot in both shelters. The travelers were eager to shed their dirty, worn-out clothes for clean fresh clothes. For those searching the racks of clothing, it did not matter that the clothes were second-hand donations; however, it did matter that they found clothing that fit them and made them feel good. On my first morning working in the Ropa Room, I saw a young man looking for a pair of shoes. Unfortunately, there were no shoes in his size, and he had to continue to wear his worn-out shoes with floppy soles. I thought about how many pairs of good shoes I have in my closet.

 I was ill and you cared for me…

Two mornings, I assisted Sister Valorie Lordi with COVID testing. It was devastating news when a person found out he or she tested positive for COVID-19 and would have to be quarantined at the shelter for ten days. I cannot imagine being sick in an unfamiliar place without a comfortable bed or family and friends to take care of me.

I was in prison and you visited me…

The guests at the shelters were confined to a grassy area to pass the time before they could move on to their next destination in the United States. At the Holdings Institute, people slept outdoors, camping without a tent. At La Frontera, women and children shared a mattress in a room occupied by other women and children. I thought about the mobility I experience each day, as well as the privacy I enjoy when I close my door to sleep at night.

I had had second thoughts about making the trip to Laredo during the days leading up to my departure. I wondered what I could do to help the people passing through Laredo. I prayed to be open to the Spirit working through me and the people I would meet. I learned that God was asking me to simply be a peaceful presence among the people, reaching out with love and kindness, to help relieve their suffering. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to accept the invitation to welcome migrant people to the United States.

Diane McSherry

– Sister Diane McSherry, OP

Sister Diane teaches elementary school  at St. Gregory School in Garnerville, NY

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