“Dear Pope Francis,” the letter begins.
Sister Peggy Deneweth, on a mission to Rome last week to advocate for the canonization of Sister Blandina Segale, brought with her a short, sweet missive inviting the pope to visit a clinic for children with special needs run by New Mexico’s Sisters of Charity.
Pope Francis will visit the border Feb. 17, for one day only, to Ciudad Juárez.
The sprawling city of 1.3 million, dotted with hundreds factories that assemble consumer goods for the U.S. market, only recently has emerged from a bloody, drug-fueled turf war that killed thousands. On the city’s tough outskirts sits a humble two-room house of concrete blocks where the sisters minister to some of the region’s neediest families.
Deneweth and Sisters Dr. Janet Gildea and Carol Wirtz, who are based in southern Doña Ana County, provide therapy to poor children suffering from cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism and other conditions. They also teach the parents therapeutic techniques to care for their children.
“We have heard your call to be a Church that goes out to the peripheries to serve the most marginalized and forgotten!” the letter to Pope Francis. “We know that you have a special love for children with special needs! We know that you love American Sisters, too!”
Signed, “Waiting in joyful hope, the children of the Santo Niño Project, their families and the Sisters of Charity.”
Deneweth carried with her to Rome 10 copies in English and in Spanish. At an official dinner, she happened to be seated next to the cardinal who handles the pope’s calendar.
Would he deliver the invitation to Pope Francis? He said he would, personally.
“The chances are very slim to nothing that this will happen, but I was assured we would hear a response,” Deneweth said. “The mothers are so happy, so excited that he is coming here.”
The sisters have set up a Twitter account, @proysantonino, to tweet messages to the pope about the clinic and video invitations from the mothers themselves, some of whom donate their time at the clinic to care for other special needs children even after their own have died.
The official program for the pope’s visit includes a visit to a penitentiary and a school, and a public Mass, according to the Mexican Conference of Catholic bishops.
But judging from the pope’s whirlwind visit to the East Coast earlier this year, there may be stops in between. Pope Francis has been known to break with his substantial security detail to bless a follower, comfort a parent or embrace a child with special needs.
During his recent visit to the U.S., “There were things that happened and people he met with that were not on anybody’s agenda,” Gildea said. “We hope that we could be one of those unplanned things that happens.”
And, Gildea said, “Of course we are praying to Sister Blandina, servant of God, to help make this happen!”
The pope’s visit to Mexico begins Feb. 12 and includes visits to Mexico City and the southern states of Chiapas and Michoacan. His last stop will be Ciudad Juárez.