By Minyoung Ohm
RIS Staff Attorney
During the summer, I had the privilege of visiting one of CLINIC’s long-time clients, the Congregation of Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Houston, Texas. The Congregation provides ministries to people with AIDS, the elderly, orphans and others through education, health care, social justice and literacy work within the United States, as well as Guatemala, El Salvador, Ireland, and Kenya. I have prepared a number of R-1 petitions and visa applications for the Congregation’s foreign-born Religious Sisters so that they can enter the U.S. to perform ministries and pursue their religious vocation.
When I arrived at the Congregation’s motherhouse, I was warmly greeted by the Congregation’s general secretary with whom I have been exchanging many emails and phone calls but I had never met face to face. It was very delightful to speak in person and be introduced to the other members of the Congregation whose names were very familiar to me. I was invited to have lunch with the general secretary and other Council members of the Congregation. One of the Council members was a Religious Sister from Guatemala whose face I instantly recognized from the copy of her passport photo that I had in her CLINIC file.
Then I was given a tour of the Congregation’s motherhouse building, its chapel (so rich in history and pleasing to the eye!), the Council members’ offices, and the residence for the religious sisters. Over the years, I have collected many photos, utility bills, deed, and other documents relating to the Congregation’s motherhouse in order to provide evidence of the Congregation’s bona fide religious activities to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It was fascinating to see the actual building and the grounds, which were more beautiful than I had seen in the pictures. I also obtained a better understanding of the daily activities for religious sisters who reside there.
After the tour, I sat down with the Council members to discuss some pending issues regarding R-1 status and permanent residence plans for certain members of the Congregation. I discussed the increased site visits by USCIS on religious organizations and foreign nationals, and addressed the Congregation’s leader’s concerns and questions regarding these site visits. I was also given several of the Congregation’s newsletters, which contained personal and moving stories of some foreign-born religious sisters who arrived in the U.S. and eventually professed perpetual religious vows with the Congregation. (I prepared all of their R-1 petitions and visa applications.)
On the returning flight back home, I read these stories with much pleasure and interest. One story was about a Sister who was born in El Salvador who received the desire to join the religious life at age of 17 and started the religious formation process right after finishing high school. Another story was about a Kenyan Sister who grew up in the outskirts of Nairobi City but rose to be the first girl to be educated in her village. When she chose the path of religious vocation, she faced some dubious feelings from her village neighbors who thought that joining a religious life was a waste but she overcame the challenges with prayers. After reading these stories, I was reminded of the value that CLINIC brings to the religious communities here in the U.S. as well as the religious workers abroad. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve these religious sisters and for having been a part of their journey.