Michele Jurich, The Catholic Voice
January 18, 2016
"Rev. William McNabb, senior minister at Piedmont Community Church, had seen the photos of Syrian refugees moving toward Europe last summer, including the heartbreaking 'boys washed up on the beach.'
So had one of his church members, David Schmidt. 'In September I sent an email to Bill,' Schmidt said. 'We've got to do something.'
For Schmidt, welcoming immigrants is 'part of who we are as a nation.'
So Rev. McNabb announced to the church, come to a meeting on a Thursday night. Twenty-seven people answered the invitation.
From that first meeting, the PCC Refugee Task Force was formed.
Among the first things the task force learned, Schmidt said, was that an independent church could not sponsor a refugee family by itself. The search for a partner began. Among those potential partners task force members interviewed was Catholic Charities of the East Bay, which has worked with the U.S. State Department in resettling refugees for years.
Schmidt's group found Catholic Charities to be the 'most responsive and most comprehensive in response.'
A Catholic Charities representative attended a task force meeting, and a proposal was made to the church's board of trustees.
The church's proposal to partner with Catholic Charities to co-sponsor a refugee family was clear: 'We don't care what country. We don't care what religion. Whoever you've got. Whoever wants to be in the East Bay,' Rev. McNabb said.
The news came on Thanksgiving: An Anglican family of five from Pakistan, after more than two years in a refugee camp in Thailand, they would be arriving in early December.
'We cobbled together a team and subteams,' Schmidt said. 'We had covered our bases pretty well.'
Some church members scrubbed the East Oakland apartment Catholic Charities had secured for the family; some found furniture; others delivered it. Some church members filled the pantry; some worked on finances.
On the day of the family's arrival, church members carried a red-white-and-blue 'Welcome to Oakland' sign to greet the family at the airport, along with representatives from Catholic Charities.
'On the 20th of December, they came to church,'Rev. McNabb said, to meet the congregation.
The family returned on Christmas Eve, he said, and 'they've come every Sunday since then,' Rev. McNabb said. Church attendance was not a requirement of the sponsorship.
In preparing the apartment, Rev. McNabb said, church members learned another Pakistani family, in the United States since April, lived in the building. They had met the church's family in the Thailand camp.
Such a connection did not go unrecognized.
'We have two families now,' Rev. McNabb said.
'There's a great opportunity for all the churches in America to rise to the challenge,' Schmidt said.
In his Christmas Eve homily at the Cathedral of Christ the Light, Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, invited each parish in the Diocese of Oakland to co-sponsor, with Catholic Charities of the East Bay, 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?' the bishop asked.
The parish at the Cathedral of Christ the Light, he said, was the first parish to accept that invitation.
Catholic Charities of the East Bay is holding a workshop on Jan. 30 for pastors and parishioners who might be interested in co-sponsoring a refugee family. Contact Steve Mullin at Catholic Charities for additional information: or 510-768-3165."