National News

Pro-Immigrant Nun Praised by Pope to Meet Trump At the Border

By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent

Pope Francis poses for a selfie as he greets immigrants and representatives of Caritas Internationalis during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 27. Caritas Internationalis was kicking off its “Share the Journey” campaign in support of immigrants. At right is Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

NEW YORK – When President Donald Trump visits the southern U.S. border today as a part of his push for a security wall between Mexico and the U.S., he will meet with Sister Norma Pimentel, one of the nation’s most active Catholic leaders along the border.

The Tablet confirmed the meeting on Thursday with a source close to Sister Norma.

In 2015, Pope Francis personally thanked the sister for her work with migrants and refugees.

I want to thank you,” said Pope Francis during a 2015 virtual papal audience broadcast by ABC’s “20/20.”

“And through you, [I want] to thank all of the sisters of religious orders in the U.S. for the work that you have done and that you do in the United States…is it appropriate for the pope to say this? I love you all very much,” Pope Francis said.

News of Sister Norma meeting the president comes just one day after she penned an op-ed in the Washington Post, in which she invited the president to visit the Humanitarian Respite Center which she opened four years ago to welcome newcomers.

“Every day of the year, from morning to evening, families coming over the border are welcomed at our center with smiles, a warm bowl of soup, a shower and a place to rest. Most families are exhausted and afraid, carrying little more than a few belongings in a plastic bag,” she wrote.

“They come in all forms and at all ages. Few speak any English. Most are in great need of help. Some days, we see 20 people. Other days, it’s closer to 300. In recent weeks, it has been very busy. Some stay a few hours, but many spend the night before heading on to new destinations. Since we opened, more than 100,000 have come through our doors.”

Sister Norma went on to note that the center cooperates fully with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and that she prays for them daily.

While she did not specifically weigh in on the border wall debate, she encouraged a response to migrants and refugees guided by human dignity.

“I am energized each day by the families I meet, especially the children. I am energized as well by the volunteers. They come from our local communities but also from across the United States,” she wrote.

“We witness daily how, working together, people of all faiths can focus on helping the person in front of us. Regardless of who we are and where we came from, we remain part of the human family and are called to live in solidarity with one another,” she said.

Sister Norma Pimentel attended the Fifth National Encuentro, or V Encuentro, held in Grapevine, Texas, Sept. 2018. The event gathered more than 3,200 Hispanic Catholic leaders and about 125 bishops from across the country. (Photo: Jorge Dominguez)

Sister Norma has also launched a capital fundraising campaign to open a second shelter that will house both migrants and homeless individuals.

In 2018, Sister Norma received the Letare Medal from the University of Notre Dame, the highest honor in the American Catholic Church.

At the time of the award announcement, she told The Tablet, “I never imagined that the work we do daily would be given a wider platform to bring forth the cries of the suffering for the world to hear. It helps us all realize the importance of witnessing as a Catholic Community to Christ’s suffering in the suffering immigrant.”

Since 2008, Sister Norma – a religious sister of the Missionaries of Jesus – has overseen the diocese of Brownsville’s charitable operations. In 2014, she served as point person for organizing the emergency response to the surge in Central Americans crossing the border to seek asylum.

In her capacity as executive director of Catholic Charities, Sister Norma is responsible for programming that includes pregnancy care, housing assistance, and emergency food and shelter programs for four countries in the Rio Grande Valley.

Sister Norma was born in Texas and raised along the Mexico-U.S. border. She is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, but she grew up crossing back and forth from Brownsville to Matamoros, Mexico – the very location where she now dedicates her life’s work.

Along with Sister Norma, President Trump is due to meet with the mayors of McAllen and Brownsville, Texas and Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.

The president’s visit to the border comes on the 20th day of a partial government budget shutdown, in which he has vowed not to re-open the government until he receives $5.7 billion dollars for a border wall.

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