A local Benedictine sister is presently on the border with Mexico in response to the flood of refugees.
Sister Clarice Korger of the Sacred Heart Monastery answered the call to serve with the Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, where she is slated to assist from Dec. 6-19.
"I don’t think anyone who’s picked up a newspaper, seen the TV news or news on the web hasn’t heard about the migrant caravan coming from Central America that started in Honduras," Korger told the Press & Dakotan prior to her departure this week. "My monastery and Catholic sisters of different orders belong to an organization called the Leadership Conference for Women Religious (LCWR). A few months ago, they had a big meeting which our superior was at. A group called Annunciation House in El Paso sent out a letter to various groups — LCWR being one of them — asking for the assistance of donations and/or volunteers."
She said that it took very little time for her to commit to the mission.
"My prioress asked me if I would be willing to do this and I said ‘yes’ after thinking and praying about it very quickly," she said.
According to Korger, Annunciation House of El Paso works with governmental entities such as Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) and the United States Border Patrol.
"As soon as a migrant presents themselves at a port of entry and asks for asylum, a legal process has begun," she said. "They are taken to the processing center, where they do an intake and hold them until the court date. But with the number of people coming, ICE and Border Patrol haven’t been able to keep them, so they give them a GPS thing so they can get a hold of them for their court date and they release them."
She said this is where Annunciation House comes in.
"The Border Patrol and ICE in El Paso didn’t want to just release people on the street and have homeless people, so they contacted Annunciation House — which is a ministry that’s been there since 1978 working with people on both sides of the border — and asked if they would be able to house people who were waiting for their date," she said. "One letter that we got said they went from receiving 500 guests per week to 2,000 guests per week."
She said that Annunciation House has four houses of hospitality and has rented a couple of hotels in the El Paso area to house people waiting for processing.
Korger said it’s a service that she was familiar with.
"About 21 years ago, I was in Community and I was taking classes at Mount Marty," she said. "We did a border experience and we went to Annunciation House. … We went there to see the work they do on both the El Paso side and the (Ciudad) Juarez (Mexico) side."
She said she will be curious to see how much it has changed.
"I’m trying to look at it as a new experience, because it is, and trying to keep myself open to being of help," she said.
Korger said she is still waiting to see what her duties will be for the next couple of weeks.
"The numbers are just overwhelming, so they’re asking for volunteers to cook, clean, help sort donations, help do intake with people," she said.
"I know where I will be going. There is a group of sisters in El Paso that have a convent there and they have guest rooms that religious sisters who have come to help have stayed in. That’s their contribution to the effort. … I’m not really sure exactly what I’ll be doing, but I’m open to the spirit and whatever they need. I’m open to do the two weeks I’m there."
Debate has been raised in recent weeks after elements of the caravan were gassed at the border near San Diego.
Korger said the situation in the El Paso area is much different.
"At the El Paso port of entry as compared to San Diego and the tragedy that happened there, the Border Patrol and ICE have been working with Annunciation House," she said. "Sometimes in some locations, those are two groups that don’t always work well together, but (in El Paso), they are. I hope that continues and doesn’t turn violent like it did at San Diego."
Korger said there is much to remember about those who are part of the caravan.
"People who come seeking asylum and people who walk thousands and thousands of miles are doing it because they can’t stay where they’re at because of the violence or the severe poverty they’re facing," she said. "To be classified by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees as a refugee, you have to leave your country of origin and not be able to go back because of a well-founded fear of persecution or death because of your state in life or a political group you belong to. Are there people in the (caravan) that might be not exactly what they say they are? Yeah, I think it would be naive not to believe that. But most of the people here are just trying to find a place where they can live and not be in fear of their lives and their family’s lives."
She added there was something else that helped prompt her to go forth with the mission trip.
"I’m a Catholic Christian," she said. "Through Scripture study and one theologian that I know, the passage that helped inform my decision to say yes was from Matthew’s Gospel about the last judgement — the sheep and the goats. This theologian — Father Michael Heintz — said, ‘If you notice, the criterion for both the goats and the sheep — the good and the not good people. It wasn’t whether they belonged to a certain religion. It wasn’t whether they knew prayers. It wasn’t whether they went to church, no matter how important that may be. The criterion for judgement that was given at the end of these people’s lives was, did you love your brothers and sisters? Did you help them?’ Taking it seriously, I could do no less."
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