July 16, 2010

Catholic Evangelization / David Bethuram

Proclaiming God’s care for all his children

How would you cope if your country were taken over by forces that stripped you and your family of your home, your possessions and your job?

What if there was no opportunity to replace them?

How would you cope with the possibility of being imprisoned or executed because you were a “suspect” to those in power? Or watch the killing of family members simply because they were caught in the middle of the burgeoning conflict?

How would you hold up in an overcrowded refugee camp where malnutrition and unsanitary living conditions were everyday realities? Where the future holds only uncertainty and fear?

This is the plight of many refugees, but parishes in our archdiocese are welcoming them to their new home.

In April, I attended Mass at St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, where five Burmese children received their first Communion. This is one instance in the history of our Church remaining faithful to the call to care for newcomers with heartfelt hospitality and openness.

Members of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis make home visits to newly arrived refugees who are being resettled within their community. After a few visits, parishioners provide families with “welcome baskets” containing small household items to help them with setting up their new home.

Many of the refugees were not raised in a faith tradition. The parish’s hospitality awakened in many of the refugees the desire to learn more about Jesus and the Catholic Church. In the past year, the parish has baptized 30 children and adult refugees.

A team of volunteers from St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis organizes donations for a clothing room for newly arrived refugees. Families are invited to go to the parish, and volunteers assist them in selecting items of clothing for each member of their family.

Students attending Lumen Christi School in Indianapolis collected quarters for refugee families so they would have coins to do laundry, and collected items to furnish an apartment for a newly arrived family.

St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis is helping to furnish bicycles for refugees so they have transportation to go to work.

Catholic Charities Indianapolis Refugee Resettlement program helps refugees from around the globe, people who have fled their homelands because of war, persecution, civil conflict or a major natural disaster.

No matter what the country of origin, refugees face incredible cultural challenges throughout the resettlement process. Many of the minor inconveniences that we take for granted can create huge obstacles for the refugee. “Walking with” refugee families during the early stages of resettlement can lessen their anxiety and foster newfound confidence in adapting to a new homeland.

In the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity and Diversity,” they emphasize that refugees and immigrants experience the Church’s welcome most personally at the parish level. It is part of a broader evangelization that proclaims God’s care for all his children.

Many refugee families were challenged to live their faith in their homeland and refugee camps. Parishes, through their evangelization efforts, can provide them with a renewed enthusiasm for their faith.

Parishes who actively integrate refugees into their catechetical and sacramental programs find that they are eager to witness their faith in their new homeland.

(David Bethuram is the agency director of Catholic Charities Indianapolis. E-mail him at dbethuram@archindy.org.)

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