Cardinal presents grant to Catholic charity in Texas

By Catholic News Service
Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Cardinal Cupich, chancellor of Catholic Extension, and Missionary of Jesus Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, greet refugees at the Humanitarian Respite Center at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas. CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Extension

McALLEN, Texas — Three years ago, a humanitarian crisis engulfed the city of McAllen, Texas, as tens of thousands of asylum seekers from Central America entered the border city each day — often arriving exhausted and traumatized from the long journey north. 

Many of them were fleeing extreme violence and poverty in their home countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Missionary of Jesus Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, recognized the need to help the refugees — mostly unaccompanied children and women with children — who were pouring into the city on their way to meet family members in other parts of the United States. She approached Sacred Heart Church in McAllen about using its parish hall for a few months to create a waystation for these asylum seekers to get a shower, fresh clothes, and supplies for infants and children.

Three years later, the Humanitarian Respite Center has served 74,000 people — and the parish is finally getting its hall back.

A new building one block from Sacred Heart Church will be constructed to house the respite center, thanks in part to a $100,000 grant from non-profit Catholic Extension. The grant was presented Aug. 15 by Cardinal Cupich, chancellor of the Chicago-based organization.

“You have welcomed strangers and made them to feel like family,” Cardinal Cupich told Sacred Heart parishioners during a Mass celebrating the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. “The immigrant is not a statistic. Each one has a story, a voice, a history.”

The grant funds were raised at a benefit dinner at the Vatican Museum in Rome organized by Catholic Extension on the day of Cupich’s elevation to the College of Cardinals in November 2016.

“The Holy Father asked that the new cardinals not have big celebrations that drew attention to ourselves, but rather that we would do something that would help those at the periphery of society,” Cardinal Cupich said. “I’m delighted to be with you today to dedicate the funds that Catholic Extension raised specifically for this event for the Diocese of Brownsville.”

In addition to the funds for the respite center, Cardinal Cupich’s consistory dinner raised another $75,000 that was granted to Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Hidalgo, Texas, a rapidly growing parish located blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border. That grant will cover the cost of a new church building.

The work of the respite center in McAllen received national attention in September 2015, when Pope Francis acknowledged Sister Pimentel during a “virtual papal audience” at Sacred Heart Church televised nationally by ABC News.

Today the numbers of the people served by the respite center have greatly decreased, but it continues to welcome families traveling from their home countries in Central America who are escaping life-threatening situations. 

Most refugees spend less than 24 hours at the center before boarding buses to reunite with their relatives and await their asylum court hearing.


  • immigrants
  • catholic extension

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