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Syrian refugees in Rome

The first three refugee families from Syria welcomed by the Vatican left their temporary homes to start their new lives in Italy, and three new families took their places in Vatican apartments.

The papal Almoner’s Office, which helps coordinate Pope Francis’ acts of charity, announced April 2 that two Christian families and one Muslim family moved in to the apartments that housed the first refugee families welcomed by the Vatican in late 2015 and early 2016.

The two Christian families, the papal almoner’s office said, arrived in March after “suffering kidnapping and discrimination” because of their faith.

“The first family is composed of a mother with two adolescent children, a grandmother, an aunt and another Syrian woman who lives with them,” the office said.

The second family is a young couple, who had their first child — a daughter named Stella — shortly after moving into the Vatican apartment, the Almoner’s Office said. “The mother had been kidnapped for several months by ISIS and now, in Italy, has regained serenity.”

The third family — a mother, father and two children — arrived in Italy in February 2016, the office said. The children have been attending elementary school in Italy while the mother has been attending graduate courses and currently has an internship.

The Vatican welcomed the refugee families after an appeal made by Pope Francis Sept. 6, 2015, in which he called on every parish, religious community, monastery and shrine in Europe to take in a family of refugees, given the ongoing crisis of people fleeing from war and poverty.

Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, said that aside from providing a home for the three families, the office also continues to provide financial support to the three Syrian families whom Pope Francis brought to Italy after his visit last year to the Greek island of Lesbos and for the nine additional refugees who arrived later.
  • Published in World

Syrian refugee update

With the sounds of Syrian refugee children in the background, Cheryl Hooker of St. Peter Parish in Rutland took a phone call at her home to talk about Rutland Welcomes’ refugee resettlement plans in light of news that 100 Syrian refugees may not be coming to the city after all.
Rutland City Mayor Christopher Louras has said an executive order expected from President Donald Trump would halt plans to resettle the refugees. 
The order also says that the secretaries of state and homeland security “as appropriate” shall cease the processing and admittance of refugees from Syria until the president determines otherwise.
“It’s disconcerting right now because of what is going in in Washington,” said Hooker, a volunteer with Rutland Welcomes, a volunteer network of several hundred people that has been working with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program. “Rutland may not be a resettlement area because of scaling down the number of refugees being allowed in” to the United States.
A Syrian family of five is staying with her and her husband, George, another volunteer with Rutland Welcomes. A second family is staying with another host family.
“These may be the only two families that come,” Cheryl Hooker said. “It’s really disappointing. We were looking to do the right thing and help people.”
Staff from the resettlement program is helping the two refugee families find permanent housing.
Students from Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland collected towels for the 100 Syrian refugees expected in Rutland, and a collection at St. Peter Church provided funds to purchase 30 irons for the families.
“This is an opportunity for us as Christian, as Catholics, to be accepting,” Hooker said before the first refugees arrived earlier this month. “It’s the right thing to do. There but for the grace of God go any one of us.”
  • Published in Diocesan

Ironing out refugees' needs

As the volunteer group Rutland Welcomes continues to prepare for the arrival in Rutland of 100 Syrian refugees, members George and Cheryl Hooker are ironing out one of the details.
They are seeking to acquire an iron for each household.
Mr. Hooker spoke about the project at Masses at St. Peter Church in Rutland, where he is a parishioner, on the weekend of Jan. 7, and the need for the irons has been expressed in the parish bulletin. “There are many who have voiced their opinion that they would like to assist the refugees in some way. At this point, whether we agree or disagree with their arrival, the fact of the matter is, they are coming,” a notice in the bulletin read. “Many of the Rutland churches in the area, as well as many people from the Rutland community—some of whom are our parishioners—have already come forward to assist the people of Syria in various ways.”
As mentioned in the bulletin: “As a faith community, will we see the face of Christ in these refugees? Can we show mercy—the face of Christ—to these our brothers and sisters? Can this be an opportunity for us to put the corporal works of mercy into practice by seeing the face of Christ in these people? By reaching out to them in prayer, and through our assistance to them, might we be evangelizing the love of God and His mercy?”
According to World Vision, a global Christian humanitarian organization, 13.5 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance due to a violent civil war that began in 2011; 4.8 million Syrians are refugees, and 6.1 million are displaced within Syria. Most Syrian refugees remain in the Middle East, in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and in Egypt.
“This is an opportunity for us as Christians, as Catholics, to be accepting,” said Cheryl Hooker, a parishioner of St. Peter Church in Rutland and a volunteer with Rutland Welcomes. “It’s the right thing to do. There but for the grace of God go any one of us.”
She is hoping to raise enough money from the church collection to buy 30 irons and plans to purchase them locally.
The Hookers are co-chairs of the Set Up Committee of Rutland Welcomes, a volunteer network of several hundred people that works with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.
Mrs. Hooker said irons are one of the items the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program suggested as part of helping the refugees set up their new homes.
She praised the St. Peter Parish Council; Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin Father Thomas Houle, pastor; and Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne for supporting the collection and the effort “to bring people who are suffering here so we can help.”
As of Jan. 10 no Syrian refugees had arrived in Rutland, but Mrs. Hooker hopes two or three families will arrive by the end of the month. 
  • Published in Parish

A Rutland Welcome

Rutland is no stranger to immigrants.
They have come from Italy, Ireland, Greece, Poland, Canada.
And a new group of immigrants – 100 Syrian refugees – is expected.
Mayor Christopher Louras’ crafted a plan to resettle 100 Syrian refugees who fled the Islamic State and were living in sprawling refugee camps in Jordan.
The plan did meet criticism, and some residents expressed concerns about housing and jobs, the health of the new residents, an uptick in crime, the provision of services like health care, a lack of shared Christian values, and even possible terrorists hiding among the group.
But the U.S. State Department approved Rutland as a new refugee resettlement site. “We were vetted and found to be a community that will welcome and can help them with their new beginning,” said Hunter Berryhill, a volunteer with Rutland Welcomes, a volunteer network of several hundred people that works with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.
Volunteers will work in areas like helping new residents set up their homes, tutoring them in English, providing transportation and offering friendship.
Though some residents were concerned the new residents would be a burden to the community, Berryhill said, Rutland Welcomes volunteers researched situations in other communities where refugees were resettled and found them to be contributors to the economy and culture of their new towns.
Refugees, he added, are “meticulously vetted” by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the CIA. “No one can come here without very, very stringent vetting.”
Yet some residents don’t want to get involved with the Syrian refugees. Others, however, see it as an opportunity to live their Catholic faith.
“This is an opportunity for us as Christian, as Catholics, to be accepting,” said Cheryl Hooker, a parishioner of St. Peter Church in Rutland and a volunteer with Rutland Welcomes. “It’s the right thing to do. There but for the grace of God go any one of us.”
Students at Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland are working with Rutland Welcomes, collecting 80 new bath towels and filling baskets with toiletries for teens.
“When they were asked [to help prepare for the arrival of the refugees from Syria] they really got on board,” said Principal Sarah Fortier. “We’re called to help those in need. These people are coming from a war-torn country, and they need our help. Period.”
Senior Jenna Eaton, one of the students working with Rutland Welcomes, said if she were in the refugees’ situation she would want people to help her: “It’s the least we can do to help people who are starting over and don’t really have anything.”
Helping others, she added, “is what being a human person entails and what our Catholic faith tells us.”
Dave Coppock, a Rutland Welcomes volunteer, said he felt helpless when he saw news coverage of the Syrian refugees’ plight, but assisting those who come to Rutland is a way he can help change their lives for the better. He is remodeling an apartment in Rutland with the intention of offering it to a refugee family for a price they can afford.
George Hooker of St. Peter Parish sees the new residents as adding to the fabric of life in Rutland, making it a “richer tapestry.”
And at a time when Rutlanders still remember their city being touted in the media for its opioid problem, it’s refreshing for many now to be recognized for their welcoming spirit. “Now we’re the little town that is going to open its doors,” Berryhill said. “Now we are moving forward as a community [for this resettlement] to be a success. Nobody wants this to fail.”
And in the end, he hopes those Syrian refugees who resettle in Rutland live lives of dignity, peace, safety and happiness.
  • Published in Diocesan
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