OUR WELCOME COMMUNITY IN EL PASO, TEXAS
Written by: Br. Patrick McNamara - June, 2021
Our “Welcome” Community in El Paso, TX continues to be a source of friendship and compassion to arriving migrants and refugees to the United States and to the local church in the El Paso area. The Community opened several years ago with the sponsorship of the Marist Brothers USA and Western Mexico Provinces. Since our move to a Brother’s House on Berkshire Place, Brothers Todd Patenaude, Eduardo “Lalo” Navarro, and Brice Byczynski have been joined by Maryknoll Lay Missioners Heidi Cerneka and Coralis Salvador.
The community members pause their early morning activities and gather for morning centering prayer and prayers in both English and Spanish. Depending on the day’s volunteering activities, each member attends to personal prayer and projects, house cleaning and gardening, language studies and exercise, and then tries to shop and cook so that the community might re-gather for an evening supper and recreation time.
Everyone is dedicated to different ministries for the newly arriving migrants or refugees; Todd, Lalo, and Brice work morning or evening shifts throughout the week at a shelter sponsored by the Annunciation House. At one of the Annunciation House shelters, the Brothers join volunteers from across the country to welcome women, men, and children who have been granted temporary stays in the USA. These families for the most part have escaped violence or persecution in their home countries, and have travelled for months or years to find safety and better living for their children and themselves. Refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers from many countries (Brazil, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and many other countries) are welcomed into the Annunciation House programs and shelters. They are provided registration, connected to sponsors throughout the USA, and then volunteers provide our guests with listening ears, rest, food, clothes, and other physical needs. In recent weeks, Annunciation House programs enthusiastically have cared for over one hundred new guests daily who are delivered with short notice by USA Immigration services.
Along with these efforts, Todd and Jesuit Father Rafael of Sacred Heart Jesuit Community in El Paso, founded The Encuentro Project, which brings parish or student groups from around the country to El Paso to have a close-up experience of life at the border and issues surrounding immigration to the USA. Brice and Coralis will be assisting with the project as it re-opens this Fall with real visitors after COVID restrictions. Another Maryknoll Lay Missioner, Debby Northern, will be joining the project as well. The Encuentro Project will be sponsored by the Marist Brothers, Jesuits, and Maryknoll Lay Missioners.
Before joining our community, our Maryknoll Lay Missioners Heidi and Coralis have served internationally; Heidi for 18 years in Brazil, and Coralis for many years in Kenya. Both are very involved in service to those who have newly arrived. Heidi is an immigration attorney and works for another non-profit to provide legal services and to represent (and hopefully to resolve) immigration issues. Coralis, a past administrator, provides food service for guests who need temporary shelter, as well as assisting in the food pantry services to needy Brothers and Sisters in downtown El Paso.
These five Brothers and Lay Missionaries create a wonderful community of caring, sharing, preparing food, and outreach with other Church and people of good will in El Paso. Already, they have a history of welcoming short-term volunteers and guests. Our House is large enough to welcome visitors or anyone who would like to volunteer, or just to come to experience life in West Texas and El Paso.
So, Marist Brothers, Marists of Champagnat, Lay Marists, Friends, or any of you who are interested—COME AND VISIT, AND MAYBE EVEN VOLUNTEER!