Finding inspiration at Casa Papa Francisco - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Guests at Casa Papa Francisco, an Annunciation House shelter for migrants in El Paso, Texas.


Earlier this summer, returned missioner Brenda Seymour (Class of 2019 – Kenya) came to volunteer in El Paso, staying at Annunciation House’s new shelter, Casa Papa Francisco. The Maryknoll Lay Missioners border region is now offering a Volunteer Placement Assistance Program for people interested in volunteer service at the border.

When I first heard that I’d be staying at Annunciation House’s new hospitality shelter named Casa Papa Francisco, I somehow felt I’d be in good hands in a place with such a name. And, sure enough, I was.

Benda Seymour with Irma at church festival

Brenda (right) with Irma at a church festival near Casa Papa Francisco in El Paso.

I spent 17 very busy and insightful days at CPF and three other shelters run by Annunciation House on the El Paso, Texas, side of the border. It was a privilege to be able to welcome and serve migrants, many of whom have undergone life-threatening journeys to get to the border. I felt very fortunate that I was able to serve these guests in a safe and welcoming home that supplied them with food and shelter and assistance in locating their future sponsors.

Casa Papa Francisco serves particular segments of migrants and asylum seekers — pregnant women and women with children, elderly Mexican women who are collecting Social Security benefits owed to their deceased husbands, young people who turned 18 while in detention centers, and some special-case, long-term migrants.

The guests at Casa Papa Francisco shared with me their incredible stories of fortitude, resilience and hope. I was amazed and felt humbled and kept thinking of how much of my life I take for granted.

During my time at CPF, we experienced two unusual and special situations. These two cases involved a young man and a middle-aged woman who had both gone through serious life-threatening medical conditions. Both were from Central America and were seriously injured trying to reach the border. They had been hospitalized in Mexico and El Paso for quite a while, and then released, but they didn’t have anyone or anyplace to turn to, so they were brought to CPF.

The young man had been burned in the detention center fire that earlier this year killed 40 people and seriously injured 27 just across the border from El Paso in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. As a result of that fire, he lost the use of his arms, hands, legs and speech. He came to CPF in a wheelchair. The migrant guests and volunteers rallied to assist this young man in all ways, feeding, washing, entertaining and even providing some physical therapy. It was incredibly inspiring, to say the least.

Volunteering in El Paso was an experience I will never forget, and I am still processing it. I also feel like I just touched the surface of what goes on at the U.S.-Mexico border. Casa Papa Francisco and the other houses of hospitality are inspiring and hopeful places, and yet at times one feels challenged and overwhelmed as well.

Brenda Seymour
Brenda Seymour is a returned Maryknoll lay missioner (Class of 2019 - Kenya). She is a certified ESL teacher, who has taught in Poland, Honduras, Uganda, Kenya and the U.S.