Log in
    

Solidarity with refugees, immigrants

The Catholic Center at The University of Vermont in Burlington hosted a Feb. 23 evening of prayer in solidarity with the 65 million refugees and immigrants throughout the world.
 
At a time of uncertainty for those seeking refuge and peace in the United States, students wanted to take a stand. Participants in the vigil were able to light a candle, say a prayer, write a message to the refugees in the community or send a letter to a politician.
 
Brianna O’Brien, a senior environmental studies major and an organizer of the event, sought to create a space for those who regularly attend Mass and events at the Catholic Center and for others to stand together, grow in empathy and have an opportunity to reflect on “the reality of the plight of millions of refugees and even more immigrants all over the world.”
 
Between 30 and 50 people attended. 
 
“I have been fortunate to travel quite a bit and have had the opportunity to hear and see foreigners’ perspectives of the United States and the desire that so many people have to come here,” O’Brien said. “I have seen first hand some of the situations that people are trying to escape, and it is heart-breaking to me.”
 
She understands foreign policy and immigration laws are not simple issues, “but recent political events have shed light on the plight of these struggling people,” she said. “I took this to be an appropriate time to host this vigil.”
 
O’Brien said it is important to stand in solidarity with refugees because “there is so little we can do to help.” But standing together saying, “I care about you,” “This issue matters to me,”  “Your safety and health are important to me” is, for her, a way to demonstrate that the “dignity of these peoples’ lives is something that we have concerned ourselves with in some capacity.” 
 
 
 

Executive order harms vulnerable families

President Donald J. Trump issued today an Executive Order addressing the U.S. refugee admissions program and migration to the United States, generally. The executive order virtually shuts down the refugee admissions program for 120 days, reduces the number of refugees to be admitted to the United States this year from 110,000 to 50,000 individuals, and indefinitely suspends the resettlement of Syrian refugees. In addition, it prioritizes religious minorities suffering from religious persecution, thereby deprioritizing all other persons fleeing persecution; calls for a temporary bar on admission to the United States from a number of countries of particular concern (all Muslim majority); and imposes a yet-to-be determined new vetting process for all persons seeking entry to the United States. 

Regarding the Executive Order's halt and reduction of admissions, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration, stated:

"We strongly disagree with the Executive Order's halting refugee admissions. We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope. We will continue to engage the new administration, as we have all administrations for the duration of the current refugee program, now almost forty years. We will work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed in collaboration with Catholic Charities without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans, and to ensure that families may be reunified with their loved ones."

Regarding the Executive Order's ban on Syrian refugees, the prioritization of religious minorities suffering from religious persecution, Bishop Vásquez added: 

"The United States has long provided leadership in resettling refugees. We believe in assisting all those who are vulnerable and fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion. This includes Christians, as well as Yazidis and Shia Muslims from Syria, Rohingyas from Burma, and other religious minorities. However, we need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity. We believe that by helping to resettle the most vulnerable, we are living out our Christian faith as Jesus has challenged us to do."

Moving forward after the announcement, Bishop Vásquez concluded:

"Today, more than 65 million people around the world are forcibly displaced from their homes. Given this extraordinary level of suffering, the U.S. Catholic Bishops will redouble their support for, and efforts to protect, all who flee persecution and violence, as just one part of the perennial and global work of the Church in this area of concern."
  • Published in Nation

Refugees find homes in Vermont

According to the Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration from Oct. 1, 2015, through Sept. 30, 2016, 386 refugees arrived in Vermont. The largest numbers came from Bhutan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
 
Merida Ntirampeba was alone with a six-month-old baby while the terror of the Berundi war exploded around them. She had already placed her three older children in what she hoped were safe places then went into hiding with her young daughter.
 
Her fear was exacerbated when the child got a cold and her coughing could give away their location. Ntirampeba knew the soldiers were looking to kill them.
 
But God blessed them with a woman who hid them in her home, gave Ntirampeba  her own clothing so she would not be recognized and saved their lives.
 
“She was doing it for the love of God, and I want to repay God” for such life-saving assistance, said Ntirampeba, now of Winooski who attends St. Francis Xavier Church.  “Many people would have just saved themselves.”
 
Now Ntirampeba volunteers with the CARES Catholic Network. “My life is to help somebody,” she said.
 
Dan Nguyen was born in 1937 and baptized in her native North Vietnam. But in 1952 her family moved to South Vietnam, and lived in a village there during the war.
 
She and members of her family – including her nine children – left Vietnam for the Thailand in 1979, arriving in Montpelier the following year, with the help of Catholic and other church organizations.
 
“It was a nightmare in Vietnam,” she said solemnly.
 
She escaped in a boat with 65 other people aboard, nothing to eat. “We kept praying and praying,” she said, noting that for most of the five days she was onboard all there was was “heaven and water, nothing else to see.”
 
Except for the pirates that robbed the refugees. “Thank God they did not do anything with the women,” she said. “God helped us, and we got through that.”
 
She is thankful to live in Montpelier, a parishioner of St. Augustine Church. “I thank God for everything I have,” she said, and she shows that gratitude by going to Mass, attending a prayer group and volunteer to serve a lunch at the church for people in need.
 
“The church helped me a lot,” she said. That included seven of her children attending Catholic school at no cost to her and Thanksgiving baskets when food was not plentiful. She sees such assistance as miracles.
 
“People here are very loving. They treat me like family,” Nguyen said.
 
Aline Mukiza was born in Burundi and twice fled the civil war there, first in 1993 and again in 1996. Both times she went to Tanzania; she arrived in Vermont in 2009.
 
Born and raised Catholic, the parishioner of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Burlington said her faith has helped her throughout her life, especially when she was facing the horrors of civil war.
 
She remembers when she was nine, being alone with her 5-year-old brother, wondering what was going to happen to them but having the hope that God was always with her. “I had no idea where I was going, but I always thought Jesus never forsakes people and God sees us wherever we are,” she said.
 
With a personal devotion to the Blessed Mother, she often prayed the Hail Mary and the rosary. “Mary help us,” was a frequent prayer. “Just the name of Mary and Jesus is really strong. That belief helped us survive.”
 
With an unwavering faith, Mukiza said that after years in a refugee camp she feels free and accepted as a citizen here.
 
And she considers her life in Vermont part of God’s plan for her. “God has something He wants me to do,” she said.
 
She sends money to extended family in Burundi where $20 or $50 goes a long way in providing food. “I feel like they eat that day because I’m here,” she said. “Whatever I have here, it’s good to share with others.”
 
 
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Poor but ‘never alone’

At a Mass packed mostly with immigrants, Washington, D.C., Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville tried to get the crowd to focus on the plight of the Holy Family.

They had no home, he said. Many closed their doors to them when they were seeking shelter and running from persecution, he said. But he reminded them also of God’s promise.

“We might be poor, but we’ll never be alone,” Bishop Dorsonville said to those in the pews, some who were likely facing similar situations.
At a weekend Mass to mark the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he assured them that God and the Catholic Church would be with them “in these difficult moments.” Millions, he acknowledged, are waiting for relief in the form of immigration reform. But with a president-elect who made campaign promises to form “deportation forces” and remove 11 million immigrants, many faced 2017 with trepidation.
 
The landscape for immigrants in 2016 already had been a rough one. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court States deadlocked on a case dealing with plans by President Barack Obama to shield 4 million from deportation through executive action. Without being able to break the 4-4 tie, the high court essentially left in place an injunction blocking the immigration policy from being implemented.

Various polls also reflected an increasing reluctance by some groups in the country to welcome immigrants from the Middle East. The Brookings/Public Religion Research Institute Immigration Survey, released in June, showed that while 58 percent of Americans surveyed opposed a temporary ban on Muslims from other countries entering the U.S., non-white Americans were the ones most opposed.

“Close to half (46 percent) of whites express support for a temporary ban on Muslims coming to the U.S.,” the survey said, “while only 30 percent of Hispanics and 25 percent of blacks support a ban.”

Some say these views in part helped President-elect Donald Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, win, since they were able to mobilize those who felt fears and concerns about immigrants from Latin America and Muslims.

But just what will happen after Trump takes over the presidency remains a mystery. In a TV interview shortly after his election, he said he would deport 2 million to 3 million “people that are criminal and have criminal records” but didn’t mention the 11 million in the country without legal permission that he had originally quoted as deportation targets. He also removed his call for a “Muslim ban” from his website shortly after winning the presidency.
In a recent Time magazine interview, after the publication chose him as “Person of the Year,” Trump said he is “going to work something out” on childhood arrivals, young people who were brought into the U.S. as children by their parents but have no legal documentation.

Using executive action, Obama in 2012 created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, which allows certain undocumented young people to have a work permit and be exempt from deportation.

More than 720,000 have been approved for the program. In November 2014, Obama took executive action to expand DACA to allow more young people to benefit from its provisions. He also implemented a program for parents of citizen children — the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program, or DAPA.

Trump said he would end these policies. Some who meet the qualifications to apply for the DACA have not done so, fearful of what the new administration could do to them and those who already have enrolled. But in the December Time magazine interview, Trump said some of the youths were good students, some have wonderful jobs.

“And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said, adding that “we’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud.”

Trump also correctly noted during the campaign that President Obama’s administration has been fierce on deportations. The Department of Homeland security, which tracks the number of people deported each year, says from fiscal years 2009 to 2014, there have been more than 2.4 million “removals.”
But Catholics groups that work with immigrants, such as Washington’s Faith in Public Life, say they are concerned about what Trump said as a candidate and they vowed in a statement to continue “advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, and will continue to work with leaders of both parties to ensure that all migrants, regardless of their status, are treated with dignity and respect.”

Others joined the organization in the statement, including Jesuit Father Timothy Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, who said: “We are deeply concerned by threats and proposals — such as the increased use of detention and deportation.”

Such attitudes, he said, sow fear, and “threaten the unity and well-being of families and communities. Instead, we call on the Trump administration and Congress to develop and uphold humane policies that honor the dignity and contributions of those among us who live at the margins of society.”
The U.S. Catholic bishops have not directly spoken out against Trump and what he said while campaigning, but they have voiced their support for immigrants. They declared the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a day of prayer with a focus on the plight of refugees and migrants.

“To all those families separated and far from home in uncertain times, we join with you in a prayer for comfort and joy this Advent season,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recognizing in a statement addressing the uncertain future many are fearing.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y., addressed a letter to those “who at the present time find themselves in a miserable condition because of a change of the administration of our nation which has threatened many with deportation.” Walls are not solutions, he said, and deportations do not guarantee the country’s security.

California Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton also called attention to similar fears and to racism.

“The journey of life is difficult at this time for Hispanics in the United States,” he said. “Many have friends and family members who are without papers. Many are without papers themselves. Children in school are being bullied and young immigrants who signed up for DACA are anxious that they might lose their opportunity to work and their protection from deportation.”

Racism, too, “has raised its ugly head in many communities,” Bishop Blaire continued.

“I wish to say loudly and clearly to all of you that as your bishop I am with you,” he said. “You are the Church. I will walk with you no matter how hard it gets.”

“I also wish to say to our Muslim brothers and sisters, and to our Jewish elder brothers and sisters, and to all our interfaith friends that the hate which destroys the unity and solidarity of the human family cannot be tolerated in any way,” he said. “The way of God is the way of love.”

Alejandra Catalan, a parishioner at Our Lady Queen of the Americas in Washington, said she felt the support the Archdiocese of Washington and the Church in general was trying to convey during Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The reality for immigrants is difficult as Bishop Dorsonville pointed out, she said, but as she stood Dec. 10 with her husband, Francisco, and son Samuel at Washington’s Marian basilica, all dressed in indigenous clothing to honor the Virgin, she said she could only depend on one thing: faith.
 
 
  • Published in Nation

Monitoring needs of migrants, refugees

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is establishing a working group charged with developing spiritual, pastoral and policy advocacy support for immigrants and refugees.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, has named members of the working group, with the mandate of closely following developments related to immigrants and refugees in the United States. The USCCB Public Affairs Office announced formation of the group Dec. 16.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, will chair the group. Members include the chairmen of USCCB committees and subcommittees involved in immigration concerns: Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, Committee on Migration; Auxiliary Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Rockville Centre, New York, Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Committee on Domestic Social Development; Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, Washington, Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants; and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The groundwork for the working group was set during the bishops’ annual fall general assembly in Baltimore when several bishops suggested the conference closely monitor actions by the federal government that affect immigrants and refugees.

In announcing the working group, the Public Affairs Office said the bishops and USCCB staff will be ready to respond to any executive orders and legislation that the new Congress and President-elect Donald J. Trump may introduce.

The working group will inform the efforts of individual bishops in their pastoral responses to immigrants and refugees and recommend appropriate additional efforts as needed, such as the recent day of prayer on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago outlined some of the responsibilities of the working group in a column in the Dec. 11 issue of the Catholic New World, Chicago’s archdiocesan newspaper.

He said the group will look at what is being done pastorally in U.S. dioceses and will share best practices with bishops.

“Particular attention will be given to addressing the economic struggles, alienation, fear and exclusion many feel, along with the resistance to the church’s message regarding migrants and refugees,” Cardinal Cupich wrote. “Emphasis will be given to ways we can build bridges between various segments of society.”

The working group also will spearhead advocacy, building on existing USCCB efforts, and engage constructively with the incoming administration and Congress, the cardinal said.

The formation of the new entity, which Archbishop Gomez planned to convene weekly, “will send a message to those who live in fear that the Catholic bishops of the United States stand with them, pray with them, offer pastoral support and speak prophetically in defense of their human dignity,” Cardinal Cupich wrote.

He added that the Chicago Archdiocese will continue to “walk with all who, given our broken immigration system, live in the shadows. We will advocate for them as well as for refugees seeking a better life for their families.”

National Migration Week is Jan. 8-14.
  • Published in Nation

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

National Migration Week

WASHINGTON—The following is a joint statement from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on National Migration Week, taking place Jan. 8-14.

The full messages as follows:

Beginning Sunday, the Catholic Church in the United States marks National Migration Week.  The observance began more than 25 years ago as a way to reflect upon the many ways immigrants and refugees have contributed to our Church and our nation. This year, we are invited to create a culture of encounter where citizens old and new, alongside immigrants recent and longstanding, can share with one another their hopes for a better life. Jesus, Mary and Joseph knew life as refugees, so let us also begin this encounter within our very own families.

Migration is, more than anything, an act of great hope. Our brothers and sisters who are forced to migrate suffer devastating family separation and most often face dire economic conditions to the point they cannot maintain a very basic level of living. Refugees flee their countries due to war and persecution which inspires them to risk everything for an opportunity to live in peace. As Catholics in the United States, most of us can find stories in our own families of parents, grandparents or great-grandparents leaving the old country for the promise of America. Take time this Migration Week to seek out those stories. Let us remind ourselves of those moments when our loved ones were forced to seek the mercy of others in a new land. 

Americans have a great national heritage of welcoming the newcomer who is willing to help build a greater society for all. Fear and intolerance have occasionally tested that heritage. Whether immigrating from Ireland, Italy or countless other countries, previous generations faced bigotry. Thanks be to God, our nation grew beyond those divisions to find strength in unity and inclusion. We have kept dear the words of scripture, “do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels” (Heb 13:2).

This National Migration Week is an opportunity to embrace the important work of continuing to secure the border, to welcome the stranger and serve the most vulnerable—all components of a humane immigration policy.
 
  • Published in Nation

A community that CARES

This is a faith community that CARES.
 
CARES Catholic Network, a cooperative health and wellness ministry of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Winooski and the Burlington parishes of St. Mark, St. Joseph Co-Cathedral and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, is all about Compassion, Advocacy, Respite, Education and Service.
 
Housed at the former convent at St. Mark’s on North Avenue in Burlington, CARES Catholic Network is a Christ-centered, parish-based ministry dedicated to the holistic health and wellness of the community. Through assessment of people’s needs, planning and implementing health and wellness activities and reflecting on the Gospel mission of health and wholeness, CARES promotes the integration of body, mind and spirit both in volunteers and in those they serve.
 
Services and activities include transportation, home visits, a durable medical goods exchange (canes, shower chairs, commodes etc.), advocacy for immigrants, handyman services, right-to-life advocacy, blood pressure screenings and a caregiver support group.
 
CARES has a full-time parish nurse, Sharon Brown, who makes home and hospital visits, coordinates CARES services and is a liaison with other service providers.
 
The Francis Center at St. Mark Parish provides physical space and is the hub of the CARES Catholic Network. It consists of a chapel, two medium-sized multi-purpose rooms, two smaller conference rooms and a residential kitchen.
 
It is a place for community, serving others and spiritual growth.
 
At the center there is space for meetings, trainings and spiritual formation for volunteers; community prayer groups and faith formation activities; cultural/educational activities; education/support group meetings; and storage/collection space for durable medical and household goods.
 
“We are excited we can use this space to reach out to minister to the community, following our faith and doing works of mercy,” said Father Dallas St. Peter, administrator of St. Mark Parish. “The reason [for the center] is to extend the Church’s mission of mercy in this area.”
 
Services are available to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation.
 
Two of the approximately 60 people who volunteer in the CARES ministry as their time allows are Claudine Nkurunziza and her mother, Merida Ntirampeba, natives of Burundi now living in Winooski and attending St. Francis Xavier Church. “My life is to help somebody,” Ntirampeba said.
 
She and her daughter escaped the genocide in their homeland and thank God for the help they received to do so. “They were doing it [helping the mother and child] for the love of God, and I want to repay God,” she said.
 
“Many people would have just saved themselves,” Nkurunziza added.
 
St. Francis CARES – which began three years ago -- brought the family food and clothing when needed and provided transportation and nursing assistance. “Without them, I don’t know where we’d be. They really have helped,” Ntirampeba said.
 
St. Mark Parish joined the CARES Catholic Network in 2015, and the cathedral and co-cathedral parishes joined in September. “We have absolute support from the pastors and administrative assistants,” Brown said.
 
Volunteers will spend the winter identifying programs needed for the spring and summer. Already fabric and sewing machines have been donated for a spring sewing class for refugee women.
 
Marie Forcier of St. Mark’s plans to be an instructor. “I love helping out,” she said.
 
“Pope Francis tells us to take care of each other,” Brown said. “By caring for others, we show the heart of Jesus.”
 
  • Published in Diocesan
Subscribe to this RSS feed
Bishop's Fund Annual Appeal