Sister Norma Pimentel, a dedicated advocate for change, encouraged the University of St. Thomas community to become more compassionate supporters of positive immigration and social change.
Living in Texas, Pimentel witnessed the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border firsthand. When she joined a group of sisters involved in taking care of immigrants in shelters, Pimentel found herself taking care of thousands of families migrating to the U.S. She said they would not be arriving if they were not fleeing atrocities or looking for a better life in America.
“The problem that we face today in our world and here in the United States is hate,” Pimentel explained. “And the only way to destroy and conquer hate is with love.”
Praised by Pope Francis and named as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, Pimentel embodies the Catholic call to love and serve others.
A group of members in Pimentel’s community went to the public office to demonstrate civil disobedience by protesting the U.S. sending money for the war. Although she was raised by parents who taught her to respect laws and authorities, Pimentel was wary of participating in civil disobedience and potentially getting arrested. Nonetheless, she persisted.
However, while in her mid-20s, Pimentel questioned who she was and who she wanted to be. But when she heard about the many immigrants who were coming from El Salvador to escape the Salvadoran Civil War, she realized something more had to be done.
“We must stand up for what we believe because otherwise, we’re nobody and we stand for nothing,” said Pimentel remembering these words that her mentor Sister Juliana said to her.
Sister Norma Pimentel’s role as a caring agent of change is exemplified by her leadership at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, part of the Catholic Charities operation. This center has touched the lives of over 150,000 people since its establishment in 2014, with a significant number being young immigrants seeking refuge.
Pimentel acknowledged that it is human nature to disconnect from what’s happening around us by staying in our comfort zone. “Sometimes we get kind of in this little bubble of doing our jobs and doing our stuff that we forget our own humanity,” Pimentel remarked. “We all need that connection to other people’s realities so that we can act and be fearless.”
In an age where many are complacent, Pimentel challenges everyone to step outside their comfort zone and focus on the most vulnerable in society.
“I can’t really enjoy life if I see somebody hungry, and if I see somebody hurting,” she said. “If it’s rainy, and I see a homeless person walking by who’s drenching with water. I can’t go on with my day without thinking I could have stopped.”
So, on such days, she stops and buys a raincoat for those who are living on the street.
“(Change) doesn’t happen just because somebody else has that responsibility,” she said regarding paying paying it forward to help the less fortunate. “It is me and you.”
She added, “So, I think it’s important that you look at yourself and never miss those opportunities that I believe God sends us to help us define us.”
Student Lucy Lezama Espinoza, who came to the event because she is passionate about immigration issues, agrees.
“Having someone who has such a prevalent factor and not only the experience but also perspective to the campus meant a lot to me,” Espinoza said. “She not only brings awareness to the issue but also sheds light on how difficult immigration really is. She brings in a perspective of more humanity.”
“All of our students can’t go down to South Texas. I hope some of them do, but they all can’t,” said Father Larry Snyder, who was previously St. Thomas vice president for mission, and now volunteers in Texas with Pimentel.
“So, it was great Sister Norma could be here and to really make that reality present to our students and I hope that they really are able to take it to their hearts and pursue this more," Snyder added. "She has that kind of magnetic personality that can really express that experience, so I’m delighted that she was here.”