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Share the Journey

A prayer, a share on social media, a voice of support in a letter to the editor — supporting migrants can take many forms. Pope Francis hopes Catholics will act during the next two years to encounter people on the move.
 
Share the Journey is an initiative of Caritas Internationalis, the global network of Catholic charitable agencies.
 
It urges Catholics to grow in understanding of migrants who have fled poverty, hunger, violence, persecution and the effects of climate change in their homelands.
 
In the United States, the Church’s leading organizations have developed a series of activities that families, parishes, schools and individuals can undertake during the Share the Journey campaign the pope opened in September at the Vatican.
 
U.S. partners in the effort are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Migration and Refugee Services, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA.
The effort will give Catholics the opportunity to learn and explore Catholic social teaching, said Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of U.S. operations for CRS.
 
“Catholic social teaching has clear messages of caring for strangers, the importance of hearing their stories and understanding their needs,” she said. Much of the effort will be focused on sharing stories about migrants, said Kristin Witte, coordinator of domestic Catholic educational engagement at CRS.
 
“The hope is that through the stories that are presented, the images presented, that people will be moved from their place of comfort to a place of encounter.
That’s what the Church is calling us to. That’s what the pope is calling us to,” she said.
 
There also is an advocacy component to Share the Journey, Rosenhauer said, giving U.S. Catholics the opportunity to take what they learn about migrants and approach federal policymakers to better allocate international assistance to address the factors that cause people to flee.
 
On the Share the Journey launch day, Sept. 27, 2017, Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne participated in the #ShareJourney social media campaign, posting a picture with arms outstretched in front of the Bishop Brady Center in South Burlington. The caption read: “Reaching out is the first step in loving neighbors fleeing war, persecution and poverty.”
 
Later, Elias Bakhash, from Aleppo, Syria, spoke to students at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington and to a group at the University of Vermont Catholic Center about his experience as a Syrian refugee.
 
Michael Hagan, coordinator of religious education and catechesis for the Diocese of Burlington, encourages persons of all ages to read the stories on the Share the Journey website. “Remembering that these are people created in the image of God, not just names and faces on television, will help convert our hearts and spur us to prayer and action,” he said.
 
For more information and resources, visit sharejourney.org.
 
Cori Fugere Urban contributed to this story.
Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine. 
 
  • Published in World

Mass for African immigrants

As New Americans continue to resettle in Vermont, members of the Catholic community embrace them and help them to make the Green Mountain State their home.
 
This, they do in myriad ways including helping the immigrants find and set up homes, access social services and jobs, maintain their culture and practice their faith in meaningful ways.
 
For example, in Burlington, St. Joseph Co-Cathedral hosts Mass in French for members of the Francophile African community.
 
Father Lance Harlow, rector, celebrates the special Sunday evening Mass about once a month to help the participants preserve their Catholic faith and their culture. “They have a purity of Catholic faith through their culture but not affected by the Puritanism that affects most of Northeast America,” he said.
 
At a recent Mass, about 50 people — children, teens, working adults and the elderly — gathered in the front left section of the co-cathedral, many wearing clothing made of traditional African cloth and featuring designs of the Blessed Mother. They sang and clapped; some played instruments like drums and shakers, others made a “sound of joy” like a trill they called “bikelekele” or waved a scarf.
 
“It’s great. You get to get back to the same experience as back home. It kind of recreates that,” said Rachel Miyalu who left the Democratic Republic of Congo and came to the United States seven years ago, three years ago to Vermont.
 
“I like Mass in French,” said Gertrude Maboueta who came to Vermont six years ago from the Congolese capital of Brazzaville. “Father Lance teaches us in French because the French is our language.”
 
Father Harlow took French classes in high school and college and continues to take private lessons through the Alliance Francais.
 
He celebrates Mass in French and preaches in French, to the delight of the congregation.
 
“I am very, very happy,” said Claudine Nzanzu who came to Vermont five years ago from Democratic Republic of Congo. “This is a lovely Father, a good Father, who celebrates the Mass for us in French. He’s an angel to us.”
 
Most of the members of this congregation are from Democratic Republic of Congo, and their English proficiency varies, but they all appreciate Mass in French and its liveliness. “English Mass is not active. We don’t dance,” said Nzanzu who shook the rattle-like instrument and waved her arms in joy and praise during the Mass.
 
Ophthalmologist Jules Wetchi, 39, left Democratic Republic of Congo and came to Burlington in 2013; he works as a medical technician and is studying for a master’s degree in public health from the University of Vermont. He was active in his church in the Archdiocese of Kinshasa and formed the French-speaking Catholic community in Burlington.
 
A language barrier is often the first challenge New Americans face when they come to Vermont, he said, and that is especially difficult at Mass. So his goal was to create a community to help people maintain their Catholic faith and to be engaged in the Mass; the French Mass began in 2016.
 
The co-cathedral was the perfect place for the community to form, not just because Father Harlow speaks French — and can hear their confessions in their native language — but also because of its central location for Mass and other religious gatherings like the recitation of the rosary and Gospel study and social gatherings like post-Mass potluck dinners.
 
Wetchi, an extraordinary minister of holy Communion who speaks four languages, said finding a home in an historically French national parish, is especially meaningful for the French-speaking African community there which now numbers nearly 50.
 
“When you come for God, you need to be happy because God loves us and nobody loves us like God,” Nzanzo said. “This Mass is a blessing.”
 
Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

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

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

USCCB, other faith groups file Supreme Court brief in immigration case

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and several other Catholic organizations joined in filing friend of the court briefs March 8 urging the Supreme Court to support the Obama administration's actions that would temporarily protect from deportation more than 4 million immigrants in the country illegally and enable some immigrants to legally work in the United States.

  • Published in Nation
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