Teaching Our Faith – How the church responds to refugees

Lisa DeJaco Crutcher

Lisa DeJaco Crutcher

This series of teaching editorials focuses on the Church’s approach to immigrants and refugees, especially in light of Pope Francis’ invitation to “Share the Journey.”

In the first column of this series, Archbishop Kurtz reflected on the words of Pope Francis, who speaks of our response as a church in four verbs: to welcome, to promote, to protect and to integrate. Verbs are “action words” — and Catholic Charities is responsible for putting those words into action in concrete, tangible ways.

How do we welcome? We, as a church, physically welcome refugees via the Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) program at Catholic Charities. When refugees arrive at the airport, they are greeted not only by the staff members who will transport them to their new home, but also by parishioners, school children and other friends of Catholic Charities who join in with colorful signs and warm greetings. It’s a heart-warming display of hospitality.

While refugees are traveling to their new home in our archdiocese, MRS staff and volunteers are hard at work furnishing an apartment or house and preparing meals to stock the refrigerator and cupboard with culturally appropriate food. After the initial welcome, our newly arrived sisters and brothers receive cultural orientations to navigate their new life. And we enroll the children in school, teach adults English and transport clients to medical appointments for their required health screenings, among many other tasks.

How do we promote? The goal of refugee resettlement is to move refugees to self-sufficiency and integration as quickly as possible. The MRS employment team works tirelessly to orient clients about workplace culture, apply for jobs for clients, take them to interviews and conduct follow ups. Some refugee clients take advantage of another Catholic Charities program, the Common Table Culinary School: There, alongside native-born participants, they learn food preparation skills and earn their ServSafe certification for jobs in the food industry.

Refugees can take advantage of the Common Earth community gardens (some located at parishes, such as St. John Vianney) to grow healthy food for their own families. Some refugees opt to become market gardeners with Common Earth and sell produce to farmers’ markets, bringing in additional income. And refugees find another financial opportunity in Catholic Charities’ Language Services program, putting the gift of their native languages to use by contracting as interpreters — and thereby making more than 80 languages available for health care, legal, educational and other purposes throughout our community.

How do we protect? Archbishop Kurtz wrote at length about the important role that the church plays in advocating for justice to protect refugees. In the column last week, Jason Hall addressed the church’s tireless advocacy efforts in the areas of public policy and immigration reform. Protecting our refugee brothers and sisters is a task that extends from the archbishop to every one of us. This fall, students at Mercy Academy worked with Catholic Charities staffer Mark Bouchard to launch a postcard campaign urging legislators to take up the cause of DACA recipients. Meanwhile, Catholic Charities employs a legal team of four in our Immigration Legal Services program; They help refugees and other immigrants receive the protection of the laws that are already on the books.

How do we integrate? From the cultural orientations for newcomers provided by Migration and Refugee Services through the work of the Kentucky Office of Refugees in supporting immigrant and refugee communities, Catholic Charities staff works hard to help refugees integrate. While a dedicated and skilled staff is necessary in this often complicated work, true integration comes via the support and welcome extended to refugees by the faithful around the archdiocese. People are involved in many ways: they organize incoming donations; they sponsor a specific refugee family, whom they welcome at the airport and help with apartment set ups, grocery shopping, and transportation as the refugees acclimate to a new city. Others volunteer with our New Horizons Mentoring Program -— where they serve as one-on-one supportive mentors for a year, helping students with English and other homework. And, volunteers tutor in our ESL school or mentor elderly refugees so they can become citizens.

Catholic Charities makes it possible for the Catholic faithful to encounter refugees, by entering into their stories. And when they are ready, refugees share their stories on a personal level. The Catholic Charities Mission Advancement team offers opportunities to hear from refugees themselves at parish dinners and “Stand With Refugees” events to support the MRS program. And at the annual CRS Rice Bowl luncheon, refugees break bread with Catholic school students and talk together about their life experiences — integrated indeed.

Please, contact Catholic Charities if you are interested in learning more about the many ways in which we as a church are serving our refugee brothers and sisters. Truly, all are welcome.

Lisa DeJaco Crutcher is the
chief executive officer of
Catholic Charities of Louisville.

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