By Tim Harfmann
Melissa Gibilaro packed a box full of crayons and coloring books – items that might bring hope to young migrants after a long journey.
“We don’t know what these people have gone through up to this point,” said Gibilaro, who works as the coordinator of Justice, Peace and Care of Our Common Home, with the Sisters of Charity-Halifax at the order’s office in Rego Park.
Two days after Christmas, she was headed to the U.S.-Mexico border to help migrants who’ve fled their homelands in search of better lives.
“People just want security and want a way to provide opportunities for their families,” Gibilaro said.
She has dedicated two weeks to volunteering with Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, Texas, located 10 miles from the border.
It is the same site where a delegation of U.S. bishops, led by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, spent a weekend in prayer and protest of the Trump administration’s policy – which was later revoked – of separating families as a means of deterrence from crossing the border. Sister Norma Pimentel, M.J., serves as the executive director.
Gibilaro is working with other volunteers at a respite center, a temporary shelter supplying asylum seekers with food, clothing and a place to shower. Hundreds of detained men, women and children arrive at the McAllen bus station every day, carrying their personal belongings in plastic bags.
She was prompted to volunteer in response to the harsh treatment many face as they seek asylum in the United States, and a recent call to congregations of religious sisters across the U.S. for volunteers to meet the needs of these Catholic humanitarian agencies.
Around the same time as her mission trip, there will be three Sisters of Charity-Halifax who will be volunteering at Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas.
For her part, Gibilaro says she wants to meet people face to face and acknowledge their dignity on a personal level.
“I’m really hoping that we are providing that first real sign of welcome for them, helping them to get to their next destination and just being a kind face for them along this journey.”
And on her journey as a Catholic, this young woman sees this opportunity as a way to put her faith into action.
“Our faith teaches us to have hope, to be signs of hope. If we can give and restore a little bit of that to the people that we encounter, then I think we’ve done what we can in that moment.”