Sister Norma Pimentel, M.J.: 2018 Laetare Address

I am a product of the American dream of my father, Joaquin Pimentel.  Days before I was to be born, he came to this country with great hopes to live the American dream. A dream that if you work hard and contribute to the betterment of this country you will have the opportunity to succeed, to be respected, and for your family to have a chance to succeed in life, to go school, have a job and a home. A dream that so many others have today, especially young vibrant Dreamers, who were brought here as babies and know no other world, with hopes to be given a chance to live out the extraordinary lives they offer to us.


If my dad would not had come with those hopes, I would not be here today. When as a young father with great resilience and determination to live out his family values in this country, my dad made it possible for God’s divine plan to unfold in my life here in the United States of America. Not only being a voice for the voiceless but also giving a voice to the voiceless.


Like my father, many more have come to our borders with an American dream. A dream that in many cases is shattered when they encounter both abuses and mistreatments along their journey and when they are here.


Receiving the Letare Medal is a bitter sweet honor for me. I can’t but think of the tens of thousands of immigrant families, men, women and children who are suffering in search of life. I see the many children, little ones, five, ten years old whose faces are full of tears asking “por favor ayudame” please help me! 


And at the same time the Laetare Medal of honor highlights the heroic acts of kindness of thousands of caring souls who joined me in the humanitarian response to a human reality we are living at the southern border of the United Stares in the Rio Grande Valley where I am from. 


A community who has tirelessly given themselves unconditionally for hours and hours, sometimes sacrificing their last hours of sleep, getting up at 4 a.m. to pick up groups of immigrant families to make sure they don’t miss their bus that leaves very early in the morning. Or making hundreds of sandwiches we later give to each family as part of a bag of goodies for the journey ahead. Or simply being their to welcome the immigrant families that are arriving and say”bienvenidos!” Welcome! Como estas? How are you? How can I help you?


We have come together as one people, one community. Together we have come to encounter the suffering Jesus who we find among us. In scripture he read Jesus letting us know where we can find him. “I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was in prison and you visited me, I was a stranger, an immigrant and you welcomed me.”


Early on in my religious life I learned a very important lesson of life. Thanks to my mentor, the late Sister Juliana Garcia, an extraordinary woman, a Missionary of Jesus who helped me define myself as who I am today.


Back in the 1980s our bishop then John J. Fitzpatrick entrusted to the Missionaries of Jesus my religious community the responsibility to oversee a refugee shelter for immigrants named after Archbishop Oscar Romero. One day, Sister Juliana and myself, during our lunch time, decided to stop at our congressman’s office to offer moral support to a group of people gathered to question why the congressman was in favor of sending one million tax dollars a day to el Salvador for arms. Sister Juliana and I were going for moral support since the group was advocating for the families migrating north that we were receiving at Casa Oscar Romero. We were familiar and witnesses to the atrocities the people of el Salvador suffered. Because the building manager was furious to have the group at the congressman’s office he closed the building and called the police. Everyone was being dragged out by the police. That’s when Sister Julian turns to me and says. “Norma we can’t just walk away. If we say we believe in something and walk away when it gets tough then we are “nada” nothing. So, we can’t both be arrested. One of us needs to take care of the shelter and the families. You decide who it’s going to be. You or me."


It was at that moment in my life that I came to define myself and know who I was, and who God was calling me to be. I took that first defining moment in my life and said “me”.  I am the youngest and the one that should stay. So I did!


It is in moments like this one “where the rubber meets the road,” it is in this precise moments that we must decide, who we are.


Today our country, our world for that matter, is divided, polarized in two opposing sides. Those who believe we are called to primarily defend and protect ourselves and those who believe we have a moral responsibility to  defend and protect everyone we can.


My bishop back home Daniel Flores told a confirmation group “If we could obtain the grace to really see the face of Christ in our neighbor, the world would be more human, and at the same time, more divine. To obtain such a grace we must ask the Holy Spirit.”


At a very young age our Holy Mother Mary received the grace of the Holy Spirit and said yes! “Hagase!” Let your will be done! And with her “yes” we have salvation.


Today you have the opportunity to decide what you will be beyond this point. Will you say yes to God’s plan in your life? Not be afraid to stand with those that need you to protect and defend them. What will be your response to our world, which needs you to make a difference and speak for the voiceless and help the voiceless have a voice!


And, as a good friend I met last night said:“Que Dios te de buen Camino!  God give you a good road ahead!”

Originally published by Notre Dame News at on May 20, 2018.