Parish Welcomes Refugee Family
St. Edward Parish in Newark, Calif., where Missionaries are in ministry, recently welcomed a family of three is it sponsoring.
Anyone who has ever scanned the arrivals/departures screen at an airport, obsessively searching for news of a loved one’s flight, can relate to the committee members from St. Edward Church in Newark, Calif. They were waiting for the arrival of a family that they did not know and yet already loved, coming to Newark from Afghanistan.
Led by Fr. Jim Franck, C.PP.S., and with help from the whole parish, the committee, made up entirely of Companions, organized an effort to sponsor a refugee family through Catholic Charities of the Bay Area. Bishop Michael Barber of the Diocese of Oakland issued an appeal to all parishes in the diocese to consider taking in a refugee family, and, with the enthusiastic support of its pastor, Fr. Jay Nuthulapati, C.PP.S., St. Edward took heed.
“Fr. Jim invited Companions, eight of us, to make it happen,” said Companion Donalyn Deeds, who with her husband, Stan, is on the committee. “We met amongst ourselves first, then met with Catholic Charities, which has been doing this forever.”
Other committee members are Companions Mary Elizabeth and Robert Eckstein, Abe and Virginia Abello, and Dave and Maria Elena Byron.
After an orientation session, the committee crafted an announcement to the entire parish, asking people to participate in whatever way they could, whether through volunteering or donating. “Some parishioners asked, ‘Why aren’t we adopting a Christian family?’” Deeds said. “It surprised us to learn that the reality is, Christian families for the most part are not applying for refugee status—Catholic Charities said that less than two percent of the families in their refugee program are Christians.”
But mostly, she said, parishioners supported the effort in a big-hearted way, and soon donations of cash, clothing and home goods were pouring in. “In a short time, we were lacking very little to get them all set up with their own place,” Deeds said.
The goal set by Catholic Charities is for a refugee family to become self-sufficient within three months. There is a network of aid in place in addition to what is provided by the host parish, which includes subsidized housing and food stamps. Agencies will help enroll the family in those programs. Refugee families also must have a U.S. tie, someone living here (apart from the parish) who will help the family get settled.
“We’ll help one or both parents find a job; furnish their apartment; teach them how to navigate through public transportation; and help them get to appointments, giving them rides when necessary,” Deeds said.
The committee is impressed with the system set in place by Catholic Charities. “One of the things that impressed us the most about Catholic Charities is that they’re not looking for the parish to go out and buy brand new or expensive items. Donated items are fine. In fact, that’s probably better because it doesn’t build up unrealistic expectations for a family that is truly starting over,” she said.
The parish had its donated goods in a storage unit. Its committee members had been trained by Catholic Charities in the first steps of welcoming a family. All they needed was the family itself – over which they had little control. The first family available for them to host was large—eight members, all of whom were illiterate. It would be very challenging to find affordable housing for such a large family in the Bay Area, Deeds said, so the parish regretfully turned down that placement. “They got placed—they just didn’t get placed with us,” she said.
The parish was anxious to receive its family, not knowing who that family would be. Finally they received notice that their family was on its way: a father, mother and eight-month-old baby boy from Afghanistan. The father speaks English; the mother does not.
The committee went on red alert. Deeds admits “we freaked out” about all that it would have to do. “We didn’t know anything about social services! But we were relieved that Catholic Charities would handle a lot of that,” she said. Committee members scheduled a second orientation where Catholic Charities would walk them through what would come next.
On Tuesday, March 7, committee members, along with their associate pastor, Fr. Frankline Rayappa, C.PP.S., were at the airport, waiting for their family, the Ghafooris. “We kept watching their flight number on the screen: delayed, delayed, delayed,” she said. “They were supposed to arrive at 11 p.m. and they got here at 12:15 a.m. on Wednesday. It was such a happy moment. We were all saying, ‘Wow, this is real now. This is happening.’ And what a beautiful family they were.”
Most refugee families have to rebuild their lives from the ground up. When you think of all the documents that get you through a normal business—identification cards, references, credit reports—they don’t have any of that. They don’t have a family doctor or dentist. Until the committee from St. Edward can find them affordable housing, they were housed first at a hotel and are now at a one-bedroom cottage offered by a nearby parish.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society of St. Edward is helping the family by paying for its groceries for the next three months. Committee members have taken them to a local laundromat to show them the ropes. The Ecksteins spent two full days with the family, helping them fill out paperwork at various agencies and offices.
The family is grateful and happy to be here, Deeds said. “They thank us constantly,” she said. “And they are the best parents you can imagine. Little Hamza is so happy and open to people. He smiles all the time.”
For Deeds and others on the committee, supporting the Ghafoori family is an example of Precious Blood spirituality in action.
“The first thing that comes to mind for me is our desire to reach out to those on the fringes,” she said. “In today’s world, and sadly, more recently in our own country, who is more on the fringes than Muslim refugees? I actually consider them to have been pushed beyond the fringes. They are under pressure worldwide and even their own countries have betrayed them. How can we not actually hear the cry of Jesus’ Blood in their lives?”