Catholics Learn how to Sponsor Refugee Families


Michele Jurich, The Catholic Voice
February 8, 2016

"Representatives from 43 parishes about half of the Diocese of Oakland spent the morning Jan. 30 learning how they can partner with Catholic Charities of the East Bay to "welcome the stranger" by co-sponsoring a refugee family resettling in the East Bay.

In his Christmas message, Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, recalled hearing Pope Francis' call for each parish and monastery in Europe to sponsor a refugee family. 'Wouldn't it be great if we become the first diocese in the USA where every parish co-sponsored a refugee family?' he asked.

Among the parishes answering the call was St. Ignatius of Antioch parish. Rev. Robert Rien, the parochial administrator, was with a delegation of leaders from the Antioch parish, eager to learn 'how we can help make this happen.'

The deanery in East Contra Costa County is considering a collaboration that would pair parishes in the deanery to co-sponsor a refugee family.

Other potential collaborations were popping up in the filled-to-capacity room at Catholic Charities of the East Bay's West County Service Center in Richmond.

Catholic Charities expects to resettle 150 refugees in the East Bay this year; a Pakistani family is expected to arrive this month.

Who are the refugees, what are their needs and how does Catholic Charities work to meet them were among the questions.

Stephen Mullin, parish outreach manager, said they would look at how the parishes can help, so that 'when people come to this country, and find a new home, they are able to feel welcome, and they are able to integrate their own faith, their own talents and their own love to make our society a better place.

'I think we all want that.'

Hana Toma told the story from a refugee's point of view: her own.

She worked at the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, but in 2003, she said, 'things started to change.' A rosary on her rearview mirror triggered a broken windshield.

'For me and my family, it started to become very hard to live a good life there,' she said.

There were more questions about their Catholic religion, and more threats.

'I didn't want anyone to call me a refugee,' she said. 'We didn't like that word. But when things are so bad, your life is threatened, you have to make a decision.'

The decision took her family to a refugee camp in Turkey. After two years there, her family was resettled in the East Bay.

Today, Toma works as a case manager for Catholic Charities. 'I am helping people just like me,' she said.

Catholic Charities is seeking help from parishes in many ways, including providing a warm welcome and airport pickup; identifying appropriate housing; collect household goods and furnishings; stocking the pantry; mentoring; serving as community guides; and as mentors and visitors.

The Catholic Charities resettlement program is responsible for the refugee for the first 90 days; parishes would be welcome to continue mentoring the family after that.

The question-and-answer period showed the readiness of some communities to begin soon. Questions included how to help the refugee families navigate the social services and government agencies, particularly with the language issues."

Find the original article on The Catholic Voice website.

Last Modified: February 21, 2016 10:27 AM
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