Ursuline Sister Jacinta Powers expected to spend the first six months of 2020 serving migrants at the Mexican border. Her year – like everyone else’s in 2020 – took an unexpected turn.
Sister Jacinta continues to serve in Matamoros, Mexico, with Global Response Management, where she expects to remain at least through December.
“I was contacted by Sister Amelia (Stenger, congregational leader) who informed me that the Leadership team was offering to allow me to stay another six months if my gifts were still needed in the camp with Global Response Management,” Sister Jacinta said. “When I asked my jefe (‘boss’ in Spanish) he immediately assured me that I was needed.”
She travels daily from Brownsville, Texas, to Matamoros, where she uses her nursing skills in a mobile medical clinic to aid asylum-seekers who are required to remain in Mexico while awaiting their hearing. At one point, there were between 2,500 to 3,000 people in the makeshift camp, but that number has dropped significantly. The U.S. government closed immigration courts on March 18 due to Covid-19 concerns, and no hearings have happened since.
“It is estimated to be down to 650 people due to some of the people bonding together and getting an apartment in the city or going to another shelter in the city, or perhaps going to a different country,” Sister Jacinta said on Oct. 27. “Plus, as people come into Matamoros from the south of Mexico or other Central American countries with the desire to seek asylum in the U.S., Mexican Immigration will not allow them to take shelter in the camp. In fact, they have placed a 10-foot wire fence topped with razor wire around the camp to prevent people from entering without permission. The new asylum-seekers are forced to live on the streets or take refuge in a shanty town south of Matamoros. So that makes the number of people we are seeing in the camp and the clinic less and less as the weeks go by.”
Sister Jacinta said it has been a blessing – perhaps a miracle – that no one in the camp has gotten extremely sick from Covid despite living in situations where no social distancing can occur.
“We have the antibody tests which indicates that if positive, the person has had the virus and has developed antibodies,” she said. “We have numerous people showing positive for these, but no severe symptoms. Praise God! We have masks that we distribute to adults and children and encourage all to wear them, not only at the clinic, but any gathering. The virus is also present in the city of Matamoros where, like many cities in the U.S., the death toll is climbing.”
Asylum-seekers are very aware that the American presidential election is upcoming, Sister Jacinta said.
“They speak about it each day that I am there. They are concerned especially if they have children, for the safe future they desperately want for them,” Sister Jacinta said. “A Responsorial Psalm from this week’s Mass instructs us how to act, not only in this political situation, but all the time: ‘Behave like God as his very dear children.’” (Ephesians 5:1)
Sister Jacinta said her experience in Matamoros at times leaves her at a loss for words, but she is happy to be serving the poor.
“As all experiences should, I pray this one transforms my heart and soul to be a more sensitive person to people who live on the fringe of society,” she said. “No matter where I will be, to go to the ‘fringe’ will be my hope! Hopefully, I have been able to help in some lives with a Band-Aid, a smile, a few more poorly pronounced words of Spanish and many prayers. I pray that I will not forget!”