With the U.S. experiencing a surge in those coming to our Southern border seeking political asylum, the Diocese has reignited its “Operation Bienvenida.”
On Good Friday, Bishop Alberto Rojas issued a statement calling on the faithful of the Diocese to pray for asylum seekers, to provide whatever material support they can and to advocate for immigration policy reform.
“Our Diocese has always treated this situation as a humanitarian crisis and an opportunity to live our faith through service and spiritual accompaniment to those in need,” the Bishop wrote. “This time is no different.”
This ministry was established during a similar surge in 2018. The Diocese took a central role in setting up and coordinating a ministry of transition for asylum seekers who had arrived with legal authorization to be in the United States, pending their court hearing for asylum. Brothers and sisters were welcomed with basic necessities, spiritual support and assistance in traveling to family and friends at other locations in the United States. The Valley Missionary Program at Our Lady of Soledad Parish in Coachella served as a central facility for this ministry, receiving thousands of asylum seekers over an 18-month period. Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral in San Bernardino served in a similar role for a brief period in 2019.
In the current surge, the Diocese has so far played a more limited role. The COVID-19 pandemic and its social distancing requirements have meant that the Valley Missionary Program facilities are not being used. The primary transition facility being used is the Galilee Center, a non-profit organization in Mecca founded by two women, Gloria Gomez and Claudia Castorena, inspired to community work by their Catholic faith. Even with practicing social distancing and safety precautions, the Galilee Center served over 1,000 asylum seekers in March and exceeded that amount in April.
“They come, Mom’s with children, Dad’s with children, pregnant women. Every person has their paperwork,” says Gomez. “We don’t know what they’re running from, but it is a blessing to have each and every one of them.
“When you receive the stranger at your house, you receive God in your house. That’s how we see it.”
Presently, Gomez said the greatest need in material goods is clothing for children approximately six to ten years old. The Diocese encourages donations of these in the following ways,
- Order goods via any online store and have them delivered to directly to the Galilee Center: The Galilee Center, 6601 Hammond Rd., Mecca, CA 92254
- Deliver your items to the Galilee Center directly. We ask that you please call Galilee Center directly to arrange a drop off time. You can contact them at 760.396.9100
- Drop-off your donations at the Diocesan Pastoral Center at 1201 E. Highland Ave., San Bernardino, CA, 92404. We can only accept drop-offs during business hours: M-Th, 8:30am-4:30pm.
The Diocese and local Catholic parishes have supported the current effort by collecting and donating needed supplies and by having local clergy visit and pray with the asylum seekers.
“That pastoral presence means so much,” said Sister Hortensia del Villar, Director of the Diocesan Office of Community Services and Outreach, of her interactions with asylum seekers at the Galilee Center. “People have been through so much. I could see the tears in the mothers’ eyes.”
Through Abraham Joven, Director of the Diocesan Office of Advocacy, the Diocese also maintains communication with the California Border Patrol, state and county government representatives as well as neighboring dioceses of San Diego, Orange and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles as changes take place in the number of asylum seekers and their points of entry into the U.S.
“The response in this moment seems far more coordinated among federal, state, local government, and the community organizations - including Catholic entities - this time around,” Joven said. “This show of solidarity is much needed and speaks to the kind of coordination among the various social institutions that were hinted at in Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti.”