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Prayer keeps Sr. Norma Pimentel centered

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WASHINGTON — You might have seen Sister Norma Pimentel around: hoping to talk with President Donald Trump when he made his Texas-Mexico border visit in January; speaking at the United Nations; testifying before Congress; being part of an international satellite broadcast in 2015 with Pope Francis just before the pope's U.S. visit.


But that's not all. She has won a number of awards, including the University of Notre Dame's prestigious Laetare Medal, Catholic Charities USA's "Keep the Dream Alive" award and the Sister Margaret Cafferty Development of Peoples Award from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, presented Feb. 2 during the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington.


How does she do it? In one word, prayer.


"My prayer life, it's key for who I am today and what I do," Sister Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, said in a Feb. 2 interview following the award ceremony.


"If I didn't make the time to wake up early in the morning to go to Mass and do my prayers and end with my prayers at night, I think I would get lost in all of this. It would be all about me and all the sensational attention that is given to me."


Pointing skyward, she added, "It's always Jesus Christ himself. He is guiding us to care for his people. And so we must continue to ask to pass that message to everyone who needs to hear it. We are defending life."


Sister Pimentel's ministry does not seem all that complicated, until you look at the scale. Since her immigrant ministry began in 2014, she estimates she has met 125,000 immigrants at the bus stop in McAllen, Texas, taken them to a shelter where they can get a shower, toiletries, some food and a respite for a couple of hours — until it's back to the bus station for the next leg of a highly uncertain journey.


"I hired someone to follow up on how they are doing," Sister Pimentel said. "Some have been deported, some do not have that phone number (anymore). Some others are still hoping to have their situation resolved. And some we never hear from."


Not only are Latin American immigrants arriving in McAllen in big numbers, so too are the American immigrants making their way to south Texas to assist in Sister Pimentel's ministry however they can.


"For me, when I see people that come from different parts of the United States to volunteer, pretty much to learn and see what's happening and to be part of that response, they're 100 percent self-giving to be there to help the immigrants," Sister Pimentel said, holding out special praise for the many retired religious sisters who come in pairs and stay for two weeks to help.


"You see in their faces, the joy of helping, the joy of being able to care for the families, whether it's cleaning a toilet, washing the towels, making sandwiches. You see in them 'con gusto,' with great ... happiness. They're not getting paid, they're doing it out of their own enthusiasm to do something good. You see it in their faces," she added.


"Their engagement and their involvement becomes so alive and you know that God is present in their life," Sister Pimentel said. "That comes from a sense of awareness of God in them through that expression in them of what they're doing. In Spanish, 'rostro' — you see it in their face. All of that is very evident."


That "rostro" is not always evident in the faces of the immigrants Sister Pimentel and her crew are helping.


"These families are very afraid," Sister Pimentel said, "because they've been taken advantage of, abused in many ways. They don't know if the person approaching them is there to help them or to hurt them."


Despite that, she noted there has never been a violent incident in her ministry.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019