This Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of our foundress, St. Louise de Marillac.
I believe that St. Louise has something to tell us about the world in which we are living today and it is around the question, “What are the needs?”
In this time if the COVID 19 pandemic, the increased number of migrants at our southern border has put significant strain on the overstretched assistance centers. Many of these migrants are families with children and unaccompanied children coming from the Northern Triangle, which consists of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Our identity as Daughters of Charity is rooted in this question of, “What are the needs?” and the essential Vincentian one of, “What must be done?”
St. Louise had the ability to see the needs around her and assess them.
Without a doubt, the plight of unaccompanied children at the border today would have broken her heart and moved her to action. I imagine her defending their rights, to find a place away from violence and away from poverty; away from hopelessness and their waiting to hope. She certainly would have said, “Central American families are not migrating – they are fleeing.”
As Daughter of Charity, Sister Louise Sullivan (editor and translator from French to English of Saint Louise de Marillac: Spiritual Writings) said, “In her time in Paris, about 400 children a year were abandoned in Paris. The cause seems to have been the law at the time which said that, if a child born out of wedlock was recognized by the father, the child was legitimized; if not, the mother was declared a prostitute and banished from the city. The Church of Paris had created a work, La Couche, to house the children but it was a dismal failure. Vincent and Louise heard about it and, with the support of the Ladies of Charity, tried to remedy it. Vincent became the fundraiser, but Louise and the first Sisters provided the care. Some children were at Sainte Chapelle, the Mother House, others in foster care. Later they moved to the Thirteen Houses. Since this was outside the city walls, some of the babies’ mothers could be hired as wet nurses. Later the children were moved to Bicêtre. The work was Louise’s great passion. The only reason she was not a Foundling was because her father had recognized her.”
Migrant parents are giving their children a chance to live. They send their kids across the border, not because they are brave people or without feelings. Rather, they’re humans facing an impossible choice.
The reality is that migrant youth travel on their own or in small groups, fleeing Central America’s Northern Triangle. Many of the asylum claimants are fleeing gangs or government violence, or escaping collapsing economies or communities left uninhabitable after two serious hurricanes in 2020. Climate change is indeed another issue that must be faced. Many indigenous people in Guatemala can’t grow their crops. They must compete with crops from other places. This has prompted multiple migrations from the farms to the cities, from Central America to Mexico, and, after months waiting in Mexico, from Mexico to the United States.
Undocumented youth at the border are not always abandoned like in the time of St Louise, but they face uncertainty and they are anxious about their future.
I have met people who fear the wave of undocumented migrants and do not sympathize with their plight. Louise would have changed that notion.
Our attitude today must be ‘What needs to be done?’ and we must roll up our sleeves to make it happen.
In front of these new poverties our approach just like that of Saint Louise calls for creativity, openness, compassion and action.
Written by Sister Michelle Loisel, D.C.