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An invitation to meet and grow

Imagine if the combined populations of Rutland City and Colchester Town – about 34,000 people – were forced suddenly to relocate from their Vermont communities due to an outbreak of war or an impending ethnic cleansing. This might sound like the storyline of a dystopian novel.
 
But tragically this exact number – 34,000 people per day – forcibly are displaced from their homelands, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We are now witnessing the highest levels of human displacement on record, an unprecedented 65.3 million people worldwide.
 
This humanitarian crisis veers in and out of consciousness, confined mostly to heart-breaking images on our social media feeds. Despite your personal politics about how the U.S. immigration issue should be solved, the reality is that human beings with the “right to dignified life,” according to Catholic social teaching, are fleeing to survive.
 
A passage from Leviticus reminds Christians that “the stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” We recall that our own Holy Family roamed as refugees for a time, forced to skirt persecution by King Herod after Jesus’ birth.
 
Pope Francis weighed in on the refugee crisis recently saying, “Migration, if handled with humanity, is an opportunity for everyone to meet and grow.…The defense of human beings knows no barriers: We are all united in wanting to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land.”
 
The pope’s characterization of an interaction with “the stranger” as an opportunity for meeting and growing heartens me. He articulates my own 13-year experience of walking alongside a Somali-Bantu family through the challenges of resettlement.
 
The ways in which I have stretched and grown are vast, but here are just two:
 
 I no longer take my privileged life for granted, even for a moment. The fact that I can close my eyes each night in a peaceful, safe neighborhood with no fear of violence above or around me is the greatest of gifts in an increasingly chaotic world. (In a Kenyan refugee camp, my Somali friends endured brutality, drought and food shortages.)
 
 I now see community and the experience of belonging as prime ingredients for my own emotional and social wellbeing. Many American families are largely self-sufficient today, making it easier to live solitary lives hyper-focused on the successes of nuclear family members. While financial stability is an admirable goal, it can have the unintended consequences of keeping us siloed in our comfortable worlds and less likely to embark on new and diverse relationships that enrich and enliven.
 
(New Americans depend on immigrants who came before them for information, childcare and even food, thus they exist within a vibrant, interconnected community that provides deep solidarity.)
 
As Vermont prepares to resettle more Syrian families this summer (and other immigrant groups continue to assimilate in the Burlington area), I remind us of Pope Francis’ invitation to step out of our comfort zones. We have robust gifts to offer these New American friends. In turn, they will offer us life-changing insights about what it means to live as authentic disciples of Christ.
 
-- By Marybeth Christie Redmond, a writer-journalist living in Essex.

-- Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of
Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
 

Show Mercy to Our Common Home

Joyce Dawson, a member of the Green Committee at Holy Family-St. Lawrence Parish in Essex Junction, says “going green” is “as easy as one, two, three: desire, information, planning.”
 
She was one of the presenters at the April 23 “Mercy for Our Common Home” event at the Holy Family-St. Lawrence parish center, preceded by evening vespers in Holy Family Church.

The event was held as part of the Global Catholic Climate Movement's Mercy2Earth Weekend, a global initiative combining Earth Day and Divine Mercy Sunday celebrations to encourage Catholics to reflect upon Pope Francis' "Mercy to Earth" message and put it into action.
 
About 35 people attended the 2-hour event that focused on caring for the Earth as part of the Diocese of Burlington’s observance of the Year of Creation called for by Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne.
 
As she spoke to persons at her presentation, Dawson sat at a table with a picture of Kermit the Frog with the words “It’s so easy being green.” And though it does take some effort to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost, she said the effort is worthwhile not only from a cost-saving perspective but also because such actions show care and respect for the Earth as called for by Pope Francis in his encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home.”
 
Ernie Clerihew of St. Alphonsus Liguori Parish in Pittsford expressed concern about getting people to separate trash from recycling and composting at events like bingo. “A lot of people don’t want to be bothered,” he lamented. “Everybody should care.”
 
Linda Hemond of Holy Family Parish said the effort is worthwhile and made easier by products like biodegradable compost bags.
 
Dawson said parishes need to be leaders in the effort to care for creation. “We want to lead by example. We want our parishioners to do this and their families and their neighbors.”
 
In a workshop on “living simply,” presenter Marybeth Redmond, a writer and parishioner of Holy Family-St. Lawrence Parish, said for her living simply “is about disconnecting from the consumerist society we live in and finding more time for meaningful things, creating more space and time in my life for experiences, relationships with people and activities that bring meaning to my life.”
 
Many people, she said, are looking to have a less stressful existence with a higher quality of life, deeper spiritual/faith lives and more meaningful relationships.
 
Other topics of roundtable discussions were renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean water, impacts on communities and eco-spirituality.
 
Anita Wellman, a Secular Franciscan from Corpus Christi Parish in St. Johnsbury, attended the “Mercy for Our Common Home” event. “It is so Franciscan,” she enthused. “It fits into our way of life.”
 
She said the event helped her to continue to grow; “it’s called that ‘ongoing conversion,’” she said.
 
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