This month as Catholics in America we celebrate Refugee Awareness Month. At first glance it appears odd that we “celebrate” refugees given the horrifying realities they face. It also seems odd that we have to name a month to remind us of the refugee crisis, given that the stream of refugees into Europe from Africa and Asia remains the largest flow of refugees worldwide since World War II. Yet both awareness and celebration are essential for us to act based on our faith and compassion and not on fear. As humans who evolved through small tribal groupings, the fear of the stranger seems hardwired into our Paleolithic brains, and the threat of terrorism has reinforced this fear today. Yet as children of God, we are called to welcome the stranger “and thereby entertain angels”. And the victims of terror are the very ones who are fleeing to safety and seeking our help. Research shows that as Americans we are very generous especially when asked to help children or the hungry. Our willingness to give drops when we are asked to help immigrants or refugees. The research doesn’t say what happens if the child or the hungry person also happens to be a refugee.
Catholic Charities helps children who are refugees. These children are separated from their parents either because of the parents being killed or separated by war, and/or because the children were abused, abandoned or trafficked. The children arrive from all over the world, including from Syria. They desperately need loving families to be foster parents while they heal and adjust to life in America. Right now Catholic Charities needs twenty-two additional foster parents who will be supported by our team of professional social workers and therapists. As Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.”
You can save a life and definitely you will change lives for good, not just the child’s but yours as well. As one foster parent said, “These children are resilient, they’re appreciative, they are wonderful! It takes a little bit of courage to be committed to a decision to change someone else’s life for the better and the surprise is that it turns out changing your life for the better.”
Catholic Charities also helps families who are refugees resettle in our community. The successful resettlement of the Vietnamese community in San Jose was largely due to the work of the Catholic Church through Catholic Charities after the Vietnam War. For nearly forty years we have successfully resettled refugees from conflicts throughout the world, often with the help of parishes organizing to welcome families, set up apartments and orient them to our community.
With the new refugee crisis, and in this Jubilee Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis, we need parishes to once again step up and “welcome the stranger”.
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