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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.
 
 
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