McALLEN — Sacred Heart parishioners had two things to celebrate yesterday: the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and a visit from Cardinal Blase Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Cupich presented Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, and Bishop Daniel Flores of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, with a memorial plaque commemorating a $100,000 gift to the Humanitarian Respite Center at Sacred Heart.
The funds will be used for the construction of a new, permanent immigrant respite center, located one block west of Sacred Heart Church.
“You can’t come away uninspired by what takes place here,” Cupich said after Mass, which was held yesterday morning following the plaque presentation. “Everything that’s given to the immigrants who come through here is donated by local people. People from the grassroots said ‘we need to do something about this.’”
Later in the day, Cupich took a tour of La Posada Providencia immigrant shelter in San Benito, led by Sister Margaret Mertens.
Since 2014, Sacred Heart has used its parish hall as a respite center for migrants the Border Patrol releases at the McAllen bus station, with little more than a bus ticket and a “Notice to Appear” at an immigration court in hand. The center provides shelter, food, clothing and medical care.
Catholic Extension — a fundraising arm of the Catholic Church, of which Cupich is chancellor — raised the money last November during a dinner celebrating Cupich’s elevation to the rank of cardinal, the Catholic hierarchy’s most prestigious title next to the papacy.
“Cardinal Cupich is a leading voice on immigration for the Vatican in the United States,” said Trey Salinas, spokesman for Catholic Extension’s Texas Regional Office.
Cupich referenced Pope Francis, who has been vocal in his support for immigrants, during his presentation of the plaque.
More than 50,000 migrants have passed through Sacred Heart’s doors during the last three years. At its peak in November 2016, approximately 7,500 visited the center. Today, the center’s numbers are much lower, reporting at most 20 people per day.
But Pimentel still sees a need for a permanent respite center.
“The work that we are doing, that we began in 2014, will continue,” she said.
Pimentel had previously told The Monitor she envisioned the center eventually serving the city’s homeless population in addition to migrants.
Sacred Heart is finalizing plans for the design of the new building, and Pimentel said she hopes it can be ready to open its doors in a year, as additional funds still need to be raised.