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Loving through art

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Sister Nieves’ sketches pay tribute to visitors seeking refuge in Nuevo León, Mexico

The stories Sister Nieves Lidia Ortiz Galván, CSC, hears sometimes leave her speechless. Yet, in her work with asylum-seeking migrants in Monterrey and in Guadalupe, Nuevo León, Mexico, listening to these individuals and being present with them is the crux of her ministry.  

She joins them in their doubt and fear, many times feeling powerless herself, as pleas to God seemingly go unanswered. “Where is God in all of this? Why does God allow children to die?” ask those seeking refuge at the Casanicolas and Casa INDI shelters, where Sister Nieves serves. 

“These questions make me humble because I do not know. I am one of them, in that sense,” Sister Nieves says. Sometimes, she adds, she feels helpless for not being able to do more, for not having all the answers. “There are men and women who feel angry with God, and I understand that because sometimes I do too.” 

Don Fernando, a visitor to the Casa INDI shelter for migrants in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, opens up to Sister Nieves Lidia Ortiz Galván, CSC, as she sketches his image. Photo by Brother Nicholas Perez, CSC

Drawing on prayer

When words fail her, Sister Nieves often turns to pencil and paper, sketching the faces of those she encounters, memorializing them, their struggles, hopes and faith in her notebook. Through this practice, she says, “I feel they stay with me, and it helps me to pray for them in a deeper way.”  

She also encourages visitors to draw, knowing that this creative transfer of feeling and experience can be easier and more cathartic for some than verbal expression. “Everyone enjoys drawing or painting,” she adds, “and it helps them to relax for a while.” Drawing also prompts individuals to visualize and share the dreams they pursue. 

Sister Nieves recalls her conversations with 86-year-old Don Fernando, a visitor at Casa INDI. While she drew him, he would open up to her, comfortable sharing the stories of his life. “He enjoyed being drawn and asked for his portrait as a gift,” she says. A week later, on December 12, 2019, Don Fernando died unexpectedly. God accompanied him on the journey, as did Sister Nieves, her portrait of him all he carried. 

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