COMMENTARY: Recognizing Sister Norma’s work on immigration

BY BILL REAGAN

Notre Dame University recently awarded the Laetare Medal to Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. The Laetare Medal is the highest honor an American Catholic can receive.

Sister Norma was recognized for her humanitarian service to immigrants at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen. Thousands upon thousands of immigrants, many of whom had experienced dangerous and perilous journeys, have found help and kindness at the Sacred Heart respite center after having been processed by immigration authorities.

Sister Norma deserves this recognition. The Rio Grande Valley is blessed by her leadership and example.

Closer to home, in Cameron County, we have another organization doing its part to “welcome the stranger,” La Posada Providencia, led by Sister Zita Telkamp. La Posada serves immigrants who have come to the United States seeking asylum. Residents come from all over the world. The clients served are in the United States legally. La Posada helps these individuals adjust to our language and culture in an atmosphere of acceptance and love.

The national conversation around immigration has coarsened in recent years. Xenophobia has become acceptable in some quarters. “Xenophobia” means “fear of the foreign.” Fear is always rooted in insecurity. Coarse and bigoted attitudes towards immigrants are unpatriotic because America is not a nation built on fear. We are a nation built on the courage of our immigrant forbears.

Our Sisters, Zita and Norma, and their colleagues are showing us the way to respond to the issue of immigration, legal and illegal. They do the three things we should all be doing – obey the law, offer kindness to the stranger, and by their example advocate for the basic human rights of all people regardless of their country of origin or the circumstances which brought them to our border.

Sister Norma was welcomed with standing ovations at Notre Dame. It is heartening that such a prestigious institution celebrates this dignified approach to the issues and problems related to immigration.

Bill Reagan is executive director of Loaves & Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley.