Since the mid 1800’s, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate have been serving the people on the U.S.-Mexico border. In the town of Roma, Fr. Pablo Wilhelm is Pastor of Our Lady of Refuge and it’s four mission Churches. The current Church, built in 1905, replaced the original structure built in 1854 by Fr. Pierre Yves Keralum, OMI. The original bell tower still survives.
Being right on the border, Our Lady of Refuge parish and the wider Roma community need to deal with migrants crossing the Rio Grande. At times, small groups of them cross and stay on the church premises for a short while. Fr. Pablo and the parish community do what they can for them especially as regards basic necessities such as water.
Mostly Fr. Pablo deals with serving the people of five different Churches. Our Lady of Refuge in Roma, and four more affiliated “Mission Churches” close by: Holy Trinity in Falcon Heights, Holy Family Mission in Los Sáenz, Lamb of God Mission in Frontón, and St. Joseph & St. Jude Mission in Salineño. How does one man serve five different locations every weekend? He can’t of course. “I’ve got two great Deacons,” said Fr. Pablo. “They do an awful lot of the work.” (Deacons Amando Peña, Jr. and Jose Humerto Rios, Jr. work with Fr. Pablo)
Another way that Fr. Pablo gets things done in these five Churches is by enlisting the efforts of an extraordinary group of Parishioners. A conversation with a group of them after a weekday Mass found that almost all were third or fourth generation parishioners, whole families baptized, married, and planning to be buried in their home Church. One gentleman, Jose Moraida, pulled out his phone and showed a photo of himself as an altar server many years before.
Mr. Roberto Guerra, a retired school administrator who learned welding while in the Air Force, has designed and is in the process of welding a metal bell tower for the Lamb of God Mission along with his “committee” consisting of parishioners, Rene Barrera, Dora Gonzalez, Rogelio Ybarra, and Roberto Guerra.
The creativity of Fr. Pablo’s lay collaborators is especially apparent in a project that is renovating one of the Church’s properties, a building that once housed the Mexican Consulate, into a coffee house/cafe.
Parishioner, Jaime Escobar, who is a member of the Roma Economic Development Council is spearheading the effort to turn the historic building into an inviting WIFI cafe with food, gourmet coffees and teas, as well as ice cream. Situated just across the street from the Parish it will certainly be a daily gathering place, as well as after Mass.