God’s Unconditional Love Flows Through Grand Rapids Volunteers at the El Paso Annunciation House

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Cutline No. 1-4Rev. Lally embraced an attitude of gratitude when he ministered to some of the most gentle and loving people while in El Paso, Texas. The Rev. Joachim Lally's love for the least of these had him recently casting a wide net of kindness.

It's the reason why he and four Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters — Chela Gonzalez, Janet Brown, Joyce Ann Hertzig and Mary Kay Oosdyke — were compelled to journey earlier this year to the Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas. Operated entirely by volunteers, the five Grand Rapidians helped welcome for two weeks an influx of refugees from Brazil, Portuguese, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Some of the most loving people

"It will take all eternity for me to express my gratitude for the joy I was so generously given in being able to meet, share and fall in love with some of the most gentle and loving people I have ever been privileged to know," Lally says. "I am convinced that there is nothing I have done that merits any admiration. I only allowed God's unconditional love to flow through with and in me. 'I no longer live! It's Christ that lives within me.'" (Galatians 2:20).

Lally, who turns 80 years old on Dec. 12, is a member of the Paulist community at St. Andrews Cathedral in downtown Grand Rapids. Lally initially was a Benedictine monk but became a Paulist priest in 1972 so he would have more of an opportunity of working with the poor.

And he takes seriously the "fool for Christ" passage in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians that pits the wisdom of Christ against the world's wisdom. For years he has donned grease makeup and a wig to make appearances as Jo-Jo the clown, who's renowned for making inflated balloons into the shape of animals, particularly in the Dominican Republic where he's lead over 50 mission trips.

In the Gospel spirit of service

Lally's Jo-Jo also entertained children in El Paso, where the Annunciation House is based. It also is known as the refugee center, where, "in a Gospel spirit of service and solidarity, we accompany the migrant, refugee, and economically vulnerable peoples of the border region through hospitality, advocacy, and education," it proclaims on its website.


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Lally speaks fluent Spanish, an asset since that is the primary language of most migrants, with the exception of those who spoke Portuguese. But Lally found a way to clear that language hurdle thanks to the Google app on his smartphone.

"I would speak in English and it would translate right away in Portuguese and they would speak and it translate into English," recalls Lally.

Only refugees who have a sponsor in the United States are allowed to cross the El Paso/ Juarez border.

The Annunciation House received an average of 100-150 refugees daily, delivered by U.S. border patrol agents, according to Lally.

Once they arrived in El Paso, they were then brought to a 135,000-square foot warehouse where 500 cots were set up.

Respected, not animals

"We would take them and give them a set of clothes, shoes and medicine if they needed it and tooth paste, give them meals, and a cot in this huge room the size of two to three football fields," Lally says. "All of them were assigned different letters so we could locate them when their sponsor came through and we could locate them."

One border guard dubbed some of the refugees in Spanish as animals. Lally and the other volunteers ensured the refugees experienced a kinder side of America.

"It's a real gift, a welcoming smile and a hug and to let them know they were cared for and respected and not animals," Lally affirms.


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Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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