Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen celebrates ten years of service

Alma Revesz and Sister Norma Pimentel chat before the Mass at Sacred Heart Church in celebration of the ten-year anniversary of Tht Humanitarian Respite Center on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in McAllen. Revesz worked at the Parish Hall of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church when the Respite Center was establish ten years ago. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])
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McALLEN — As Bishop Daniel E. Flores of the Brownsville Diocese held Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church Tuesday morning commemorating the ten-year anniversary of the Humanitarian Respite Center, news broke about President Joe Biden’s executive order that will restrict the number of asylum seekers entering the United States.

While Biden prepared to address the media in Washington D.C. and announce his executive order, Flores addressed the sparse congregation that included local dignitaries, Sister Norma Pimentel, and many individuals who have devoted countless hours to serving the needs of migrants through the respite center.

During his homily, Flores acknowledged the significance of the ten-year anniversary, and how it serves as a testament to the cumulative work by the community. He recalled the phone call he received from Pimentel over ten years ago concerning the large number of people arriving in McAllen with nowhere to go.

He recalled her suggesting utilizing the parish hall at Sacred Heart Church to offer food and shelter to those individuals while they figured out their next steps. He also recalled his conversation with Sacred Heart’s Father Tom ​​Luczak, who asked how long they would need to use his parish hall.

“Oh I don’t know. We’ll see,” the bishop said. “God will say.”

Thus was the beginning of a ten-year journey of welcoming and hospitality through not only the diocese, but the city of McAllen, the county, and members outside of the Catholic Church.

“It worked out with the help and cooperation of a lot of people,” Flores said. “To me it is one of the most important signs of God’s work in the midst of all of this is that a work of responsive generosity if it is from God is going to invite other people to be responsively generous, whether they’re Catholic or not.”

Former McAllen Mayor Jim Darling was in attendance for the Mass. He was recognized for the city’s continued support during his time in office. Darling downplayed his role, referring to himself as more of a cheerleader and offering praise to his staff. As such, he applauded the work of the community in coming together to help the less fortunate.

Sister Norma Pimentel and former McAllen Mayor Jim Darling exchange hugs after Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in McAllen. Pimentel is the director of Catholic Charities in the Rio Grande Valley and helped establish the respite center, which continues to serve migrants. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

“It shows what a great community we have,” Darling said. “It was something that we never expected. It was something that was very difficult to explain and come together for, but we did it.”

Towards the end of his homily, Flores called on the community to continue to serve the needy and offer support to those working to fill those needs.

“In this mystery, we realize that those who serve receive the greater blessing,” Flores said. “So it’s not about us giving stuff to people. It’s about an encounter with the reality of the human condition. We can’t fix everything. But the deeper longing of the human heart is not that we find a way to fix everything. The deeper longing of the human heart is when I’m hungry, are you with me to give me something to eat? It’s the deeper sense of when I am suffering, can you at least make sure that I am not alone?

“God does not forget the poor. God responds to the suffering of the human condition in practical ways by inspiring people to do something.”

Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez was also in attendance and recognized for the county’s role in the respite center.

“It means a lot to me,” Cortez said. “There’s a lot of people we need to thank that cared enough to do something about this. Some people agree and some people disagree, but there should never be a disagreement when it comes to helping people. That’s exactly what they did here.”

Bishop Daniel Flores during Mass at Sacred Heart Church on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

Following the Mass, attendees journeyed down South 15th Street to the Humanitarian Respite Center, where refreshments were served. Families who are staying at the respite center and kitchen staff served meals from their native countries.

Tables were filled with arroz congri from Cuba, banane pesee from Haiti, arepas from Venezuela, gallo pinto from Nicaragua, flautas from Mexico, baliadas from Honduras, and pupusas from El Salvador, as well as different flavored agua frescas.

Migrant families joined the invited guests, sitting at long tables to eat the prepared meals. Pimentel said that the anniversary symbolized the response of a community that cares for others. She said that the work of the respite center has helped restore the dignity of those who have passed through their doors with compassion and love, love she said is reciprocated from the immigrants as well.

“We’re restoring human dignity. That’s what we’re doing,” Pimentel said. “I don’t see beyond the present day. I’m responding to today, what I see the need is. I’ll continue to be here for as long as I’m needed here.”

When asked about the news of Biden’s executive order, she said that it does little to impact the center’s mission, which is to help those in need.

“We’re only here because there is a need outside,” Pimentel said. “If there are immigrants in our community that need safety, need protection, need a space where they can take care of themselves, then we’re here for them.”

To see more, view staff photographer Delcia Lopez’s full photo gallery:

Photo Gallery: Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen celebrates ten years of service