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July 9, 2021 25 min
Franciscan Spirituality Center
920 Market Street
La Crosse, WI 54601

Steve Spilde: Today, it is my honor to welcome as my guest Sister Rose Elsbernd. Rose is a teammate, a mentor, and a friend. She serves as a Spiritual Director at the Franciscan Spirituality Center, and is a longtime supervisor in the Spiritual Direction Preparation Program. Recently, five FSPA sisters and staff traveled to volunteer at a facility on the border in Arizona. Rose joins me to talk about her trip and her efforts to respond with compassion to those seeking asylum. Welcome, Rose.

Sister Rose Elsbernd: Thank you, Steve. It’s good to be with you today.

Steve: You recently came back from a trip to Arizona. Could you tell us where you went?

Sister Rose Elsbernd: We went to, as a response to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, had put out an asking for volunteers for people to work at the borders, partly because they were really in a need for volunteers. Many of the people who were helping during the winter were gone, and the students weren’t yet back from college. As most of these facilities depend almost – I would say 95 percent – on volunteers, there was a need for us to go down. We Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration wanted to respond to that, and there was a number of us that just volunteered to go. Only four of us could go with our Justice and Peace person, Pat Bruda, who has gone a couple other times. We went to Tucson with the intention of coming to a knowledge of what’s going on, because there’s so much that you don’t know, and you almost have to sort through the facts to know what it is. We were in Tucson. We did visit the border at two different places, and [we] went into Mexico twice. But mostly, we volunteered at Casa Alitas, which is a Catholic Charities-sponsored program that receives people from the border crossings, basically, either from Nogales or Yuma, and they have the paperwork. They have a file that’s maybe an inch-and-a-half that they carry with them. At this point, they’re legal to come into the United States.

What they do as they come into this Casa Alitas is immediately they get water, they get some soup for nourishment, and then they begin to make them feel comfortable enough, and they stay maybe one or two days until they can get transportation out to where their sponsor is. If they can’t find a sponsor, they start looking for one. There’s a lot of navigation that they have to do to get them on the road and out, but most of the time it’s a day or two. However, that’s very different from on the Mexico side. They might have been waiting on the Mexican side for a year, year and a half, or even two [years], to get the papers for asylum that they need. It’s kind of an interesting phenomena of how people are so desperate to get to a better life.

Steve: So you went to this facility that serves as kind of a welcome for immigrants. These are legal immigrants [and] they have paperwork, but they’ve come to the border waiting to get in. They were waiting for a year or two on the Mexican side, and then they come in. But many of these immigrants really don’t have anything as they arrive, correct?

Sister Rose Elsbernd: No. What they get, of course, while they’re there, they will get products they need for just hygiene, and then they get a backpack. Maybe they get a pair of shoes if they need it, [and] definitely shoelaces, because all the shoelaces are taken out of the shoes in Mexico – even the children’s which is kind of like … They say it’s for their safety, primarily, so they can’t run. They get shoes, socks, a couple pair of underwear, two shirts, and usually one pair of jeans or something like that. That’s what they carry onto the bus or the airplane as they leave.

Steve: So they’ve come into this country [and] they’re going to go to some … They might go to La Crosse if there’s an organization willing to sponsor them. But basically, what they have as possessions is what’s in that backpack.
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