"The greater the work the more
important it is to establish it on
a solid foundation. Thus it will
not only be more perfect; it
will also be more lasting.”

St. Louise de Marillac

“Be diligent in serving
the poor. Love the poor,
honor them, my children,
as you would honor
Christ Himself.”

St. Louise de Marillac

 

Answering a Call

By Associate Angela Anno

It was Father Bill Morton’s invitation to the Sisters of Charity that brought them to open the Santo Nino clinic in the early 2000s on the corner lot of his home.

“I bribe you with uncertainty and challenge you with defeat.”       

Who in his right mind would respond to an ad like the above for the Columban missionaries? For young Bill Morton, a recent high school graduate serving in the Navy, it was something he needed to explore. Fifty years later, he sees it as the best decision he ever made.

It’s taken him from Taiwan, to the inner city of Chicago, Illinois, and in 1996 to the U.S.-Mexico border where he first met the Sisters of Charity who were already working there. Later they opened a clinic in his home, which gradually evolved into Proyecto Santo Niño, a ministry serving children with special needs and their families. It was the late S. Janet Gildea, a physician ministering there, who first invited him to learn about the Sisters of Charity and mentored him in becoming an Associate in Mission.

After the Columban priest who had been pastor of Corpus Christi parish in Juarez, Mexico, was transferred, Father Bill took his place. Now more of his time is spent in the pastoral care of the parish, collaborating with the Columban Mission Center in El Paso, Texas, and the Migrant Welcome Center at the Cathedral in Juarez, which is managed by Cristina Coronado, former recipient of the SC Community’s Elizabeth Seton Award, who coordinates the Migrant Ministry and the Youth Ministry for the Columban Mission at the Border. It was she who asked and received permission from the rector of the Cathedral to use the basement classrooms and auditorium to provide meals, free legal help, housing and medical assistance Monday through Friday.

In talking with Father Bill, it is easy to see how much he cares for migrants as individuals deeply loved by God, both his parishioners and those fleeing violence who are often further terrorized and abused in their attempts to reach safety.         

He sees his parish as a strategic spot where one can engage in “every facet of Catholic Social Teaching.” In addition to his work with migrants, Father Bill also has a strong commitment to care for the Earth. He chose to use insulation inside and out rather than a central heating/cooling system when he oversaw the creation of the Columban Mission Center in El Paso and to use alternative straw bale construction when overseeing expansion of the Santo Niño Clinic in Anapra. Soon after becoming pastor of Corpus Christi, he undertook a transition from a continual flow of disposable plates and cups to a system with washable and reusable utensils, cups and plates in order to give witness to a different way of simple living more in keeping with Laudato Si’.

In the priest’s residence in Anapra, he chooses not to use the heat or air conditioning, noting that life is possible with extra blankets and sweaters in the winter and a cold shower before bed in the summer. “It hasn’t killed me, yet,” he laughs and adds. “We’re not entitled to live year-round in a 72-degree environment. There’s nothing like a cold shower in March to make you grateful to be alive.” He also makes sure that the immigrant ministry is environmentally conscious, rejecting disposables and instead washing and drying dishes after each meal which provides a modest wage for those migrants who perform this task.

Father Bill is joyful and at peace in his life at the border. He lives out the vision of the Missionary Society of St. Columban, an international and intercultural Catholic missionary organization, by transforming lives through “evangelizing work, opening the horizons of humanity to the living mystery of God’s kingdom, and responding to the poor and suffering wherever they may be found.

Father Bill Morton blesses migrants at the Migrant Welcome Center in Juarez, Mexico.

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