BY ISN STAFF | June 21, 2023
Sr. Norma Pimentel, M.J., CEO of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and a speaker at the 2023 Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice, is a modern prophetic voice uplifting the rights and dignity of migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border. Ten days of her recent ministry highlight both the triumphs and the difficulties involved in ministry to migrants.
On April 26, 2023, Sr. Norma Pimentel was honored by Pope Francis at the Vatican as she joined a Catholic Extension delegation to highlight the role of women in the Church.
The Holy Father praised her “for her service to the many men, women, and children arriving at the southern border of the United States in search of a better future.” Then as an aside, he acknowledged that the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border was grave, describing it in Spanish as caliente, caliente (hot, hot).
Just ten days after the encounter with the pope, Sr. Norma was back at the border, this time in response to an unprecedented tragedy. On Sunday, May 7, Sr. Norma was serving the migrants who were injured and killed in front of the Bishop Enrique San Pedro Ozanam Center homeless shelter in Brownsville Texas, as a driver plowed into a crowd of migrants. The deceased migrants had survived an arduous journey north only to meet a violent end so close to the new life they dreamed about.
“Sr. Norma went from the proverbial mountain top to the valley of the shadow of death in an instant, but this is what Sr. Norma does as one of the major moral and prophetic voices of our times in American Catholicism,” said Fr. Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension. “Like Pope Francis, she believes that the Church should stand with the most vulnerable, with the poorest of the poor. Her place, the church’s place, she believes, is with those on the peripheries offering hope to those who suffer.”
“Presence is what matters,” Sr. Norma said at the Vatican on April 27, 2023 after receiving Catholic Extension’s Spirit of Francis Award for her service to the poor. “The most important thing is being present, whether they’re crying or suffering. We are there sharing with them a loving embrace to help them feel the loving presence of God who gives them hope. Through our smiles we actually give them the chance to restore their dignity.”
In this perilous and divided time, Sr. Norma affirms that the humanitarian act of giving protection and aid to migrants shows where the face of God can be found, which in turn deepens a sense of shared humanity. Over the years, she has provided hope to hundreds of thousands at the U.S.-Mexico border, through a shower, new clothes, food, a place to rest, and connections with sponsoring families and relatives in the United States—all services she has provided migrants over the years.
As humanitarian concerns on the U.S.-Mexico border continue in the wake of the recent expiration of Title 42 in May 2023, Sr. Norma believes in raising awareness and praying for all who are forced to leave their homes, many of whom are victims of human trafficking, violence, and hunger. She said, “Their voice, their presence, bringing that forward and having the world listen to them is very important. And I think it is who we are as Church. It is important that through our voice, we help those that don’t have a voice.”