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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

Welcoming New Americans

Our commitment to host a refugee family in our home and to acclimate them to American life was to last one week.
 
In 2004, my husband, toddler son and I waited at Burlington Airport as a Somali-Bantu woman named Zahara Arbow came though the arrivals door with a baby knotted to her back. Behind her trailed four youngsters, ages 3, 5, 7 and 9, shuffling in oversized Keds supplied by the resettlement agency.

At the 23rd hour, Zahara’s husband stayed behind in the Kenyan refugee camp where she bore each of her children. So she came as a single mother to Vermont, a name that meant nothing to her other than a place of safety where her children could be educated.
 
This stoic woman became excited during one of our first drives around town. A translator communicated her question posed to me as she pointed out the window: “Is that the school where my children will go?”
 
In those first days, I helped round up coats and boots, and prepped the family for the impending cold. The only explanation of the winter season they received prior to resettlement was to hold a small block of ice during an orientation session in the camp.
 
I recall the eldest daughter, Madina, phoning me after the first snowfall, asking if it was safe to go outside; they feared they might die of exposure. We ferried the family to doctor appointments and grocery stores until Zahara got a driver’s license and purchased her own van. My husband arranged mentors for each of the children.
 
Through the years, we attended parentteacher conferences, graduations and college tours and even provided refuge for two of the girls when they got kicked out of the house by their new stepfather.
 
Why I ever imagined that our hosting commitment would last a week, I don’t know. Thankfully, our connection has continued strong for 13 years to the present day. Our encounter with this refugee family (they are American citizens now) has been nothing short of life changing for our family.
 
We acknowledge the “First World problems” we used to fuss over, such as dropped cell service or a stained favorite T-shirt. Our expectations about what constitutes a meaningful life have shifted — from acquiring things (we downsized our home recently) to engaging with people; from fulfilling wants to serving needs.
 
We fail miserably at times. Still, our relationship with this New American family keeps us anchored in what’s most important as followers of Jesus. At no other time in human history have so many people been forcibly displaced throughout the world — some 65.6 million people, with an increasing 20 people per minute.
 
One of Pope Francis’ signature themes in recent years has been to encourage people of faith to create “cultures of encounter” with refugees and migrants, to fight indifference in ourselves and to share the journey with people outside of our normal lives.
 
The pope predicts an inner transformation of sorts; I can say with utmost humility, I know of what he speaks.

By Marybeth Christie Redmond

 
Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
 
  • Published in Parish

Once a stranger, now a friend

Merida Ntirampeba’s first impression of St. Francis Xavier Church in Winooski was one of welcome.
 
She had left her native Berundi in 1993 and came to Vermont in 2004 after 11 years in an overcrowded refugee camp in Tanzania where threats and violence were not uncommon.
 
So after settling into an apartment in Winooski with her family, she wanted to go to church and was directed to the two-spired brick church on St. Peter St. “The first time I went to the church the community was welcoming. Everyone I met was so kind,” she said in Kirundi, her 24-year-old daughter, Claudine Nkurinziza, translating for her. Someone gave Ntirampeba money to help set up her new family home, another person offered her rides from church, and others helped her family with needed items like school backpacks.
 
Refugees bring to the parish an opportunity for grace, said Msgr. Richard Lavalley, pastor. They give members of the community the opportunity “to discover Christ in a new manner, an opportunity to see Christ — in a very real way — in need.”
 
In addition to helping this woman from Burundi, St. Francis Xavier Parish helps refugees and children of refugees in myriad ways from providing food and clothing, finding a place to live and engaging legal and interpreter services to providing scholarship assistance for children to attend Catholic schools and a cemetery plot for a dying man to ease his anxiety about where he would be buried.
 
It also supports the Catholic CARES Network.
 
“I do whatever I feel I am capable of doing,” said St. Francis parishioner Diane Potvin, the executive assistant to the pastor.
 
Clearly, she has extraordinarily capabilities as she escorts refugees — mostly from Africa — through their needs and requirements until they can function here on their own. She works closely with other agencies that are helping them.
 
“We do anything that makes them have a sense of self worth and that they are not alone,” Msgr. Lavalley said.
 
And the assistance is offered to Catholics and non Catholics alike. “The Gospel doesn’t say just take care of your own,” said Msgr. Lavalley, who was seen in local hip-hop trio A2VT’s video for their song "Winooski, My Town." (It is a tribute to the new home of three young refugees from Africa.)
 
There are about eight African families in St. Francis Xavier Parish, and numerous children have attended St. Francis Xavier School. Currently four Catholic students from refugee families are enrolled.
 
“Our Catholic values extend to everything we do, and the importance of charity and humility that comes with our faith is evident,” said Principal Eric Becker. “It’s important for us to be members of our Winooski community and see all the issues [refugees] are facing. We want to be good neighbors.”
 
Ntirampeba, 59, has given birth to 10 children; seven are still living — four in the United States and three in Burundi. She praises her parish for the help she and her family have received, both physical and spiritual assistance. This includes food, financial help, clothing and scholarships for St. Francis Xavier School and South Burlington’s Rice Memorial High School. Msgr. Lavalley baptized three of her children together.
 
“Only God knows how much the church and Msgr. Lavalley have done for me,” Ntirampeba said. “He is like a parent to me.”
 
She did not expect people here to be “so nice,” she continued. “I feel grateful and cared about. It’s supernatural for so much love.”
 
Her daughter, too, is grateful. Now working as an instructional aid at J.F. Kennedy Elementary School in Winooski, tries to “give back in any way I can.” Often that is by translating for new Americans and assisting with programs of Catholic CARES Network. “I never say no to them because they’ve done so much for us,” she said.
 
Her faith influences this attitude, and she cites the Gospel of Matthew: "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”
 
Her motto, she added, is “treat everyone the way you want to be treated.”
 
Ntirampeba offered her gratitude to the people of St. Francis Xavier Parish “because they do so much for so many people.”
 
St. Francis Xavier Parish, once mostly populated by Winooski’s French Canadian immigrants and their families, “is not Winooski anymore,” Msgr. Lavalley said. “People come from all around.”
 
And they are embraced.
 
 
 
 
 

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.

Welcoming new Americans

Our commitment to host a refugee family in our home and to acclimate them to American life was to last one week.
 
In 2004, my husband, toddler son and I waited at Burlington Airport as a Somali-Bantu woman named Zahara Arbow came though the arrivals door with a baby knotted to her back. Behind her trailed four youngsters, ages 3, 5, 7 and 9, shuffling in oversized Keds supplied by the resettlement agency.
 
At the 23rd hour, Zahara’s husband stayed behind in the Kenyan refugee camp where she bore each of her children. So she came as a single mother to Vermont, a name that meant nothing to her other than a place of safety where her children could be educated.
 
This stoic woman became excited during one of our first drives around town. A translator communicated her question posed to me as she pointed out the window: “Is that the school where my children will go?”
 
In those first days, I helped round up coats and boots, and prepped the family for the impending cold. The only explanation of the winter season they received prior to resettlement was to hold a small block of ice during an orientation session in the camp. I recall the eldest daughter, Madina, phoning me after the first snowfall, asking if it was safe to go outside; they feared they might die of exposure.
 
We ferried the family to doctor appointments and grocery stores until Zahara got a driver’s license and purchased her own van. My husband arranged mentors for each of the children.
 
Through the years, we attended parent-teacher conferences, graduations and college tours and even provided refuge for two of the girls when they got kicked out of the house by their new stepfather.
 
Why I ever imagined that our hosting commitment would last a week, I don’t know. Thankfully, our connection has continued strong for 13 years to the present day.
 
Our encounter with this refugee family (they are American citizens now) has been nothing short of life changing for our family. We acknowledge the “First World problems” we used to fuss over, such as dropped cell service or a stained favorite T-shirt. Our expectations about what constitutes a meaningful life have shifted — from acquiring things (we downsized our home recently) to engaging with people; from fulfilling wants to serving needs. We fail miserably at times.
 
Still, our relationship with this New American family keeps us anchored in what’s most important as followers of Jesus. At no other time in human history have so many people been forcibly displaced throughout the world — some 65.6 million people, with an increasing 20 people per minute.
 
One of Pope Francis’ signature themes in recent years has been to encourage people of faith to create “cultures of encounter” with refugees and migrants, to fight indifference in ourselves and to share the journey with people outside of our normal lives.
 
The pope predicts an inner transformation of sorts; I can say with utmost humility, I know of what he speaks.
 

--By Marybeth Christie Redmond
 
Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

Share the Journey

A prayer here, a share on social media there, a voice of support in a letter to the editor, even a get-to-know-others potluck.
 
Supporting refugees and migrants can take many forms, and Pope Francis is hoping Catholics around the world will act over the next two years to encounter people on the move.
 
In the U.S., the Church's leading organizations have developed a series of activities, including prayers, that families, parishes, schools and individuals can undertake during the Share the Journey campaign the pope is set to open Sept. 27 at the Vatican.
 
Share the Journey is an initiative of Caritas Internationalis, the global network of Catholic charitable agencies. It is meant to urge Catholics to understand and get to know refugees and migrants who have fled poverty, hunger, violence, persecution and the effects of climate change in their homeland.
 
In addition to Pope Francis' formal announcement at his weekly general audience, key church representatives, including Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, president of Caritas Internationalis, were to conduct a media conference the same day.
 
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 on refugees and migrants, 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 and refugees, the struggles they face and why they chose to seek a better life elsewhere, said Kristin Witte, coordinator of domestic Catholic educational engagement at CRS, which is the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency.
 
"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.
 
The coalition of Catholic organizations has developed a toolkit in English and Spanish that includes prayers, suggestions for activities for families, prayer groups, classrooms and clergy, and utilizing social media with references to #sharejourney.
 
"We're giving people clear direct ideas, not just in their neighborhood but to mobilize communities. To create an environment or an opportunity for action is critical especially at this time," Witte said.
 
Mark Priceman, communications for the bishops' Migration and Refugee Services, said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that about 22 million people are on the move around the world, making the Christian community's awareness and response to their situation critical.
 
The number of refugees to be admitted to the U.S. was capped at 50,000 by President Donald Trump for fiscal year 2017, which was to end Sept. 30. It is less than half of the ceiling of 110,000 set by President Barack Obama. A presidential determination on the number of refugees to be accepted for fiscal year 2018 was due by Sept. 30.
 
Since 1996, the number of refugees admitted has fluctuated between 70,000 and 90,000 annually. The number of refugees to be accepted each year is determined by the president under the Refugee Act, which was signed into law in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter. The act amended earlier law, created a permanent and systematic procedure to admit refugees, and established a process for reviewing and adjusting the refugee ceiling to meet emergencies.
 
Share the Journey looks to mobilize people quickly. Soon after the opening, the campaign is calling for a week of prayer and action for migrants and refugees Oct. 7-13.
 
Special prayers at Masses, prayer vigils, simulation exercises, school announcements, lesson plans and speaking events are among the activities suggested as ways to learn about people on the move.
 
Similar activities will be taking place worldwide throughout the campaign, Rosenhauer said.
 
"It is a reflection of the Holy Father's leadership, but it's also a reflection of the commitment of leaders around the church around the world," she explained.
Nearly three dozen cardinals, archbishops and bishops as of Sept. 25 have pledged to participate in the campaign, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
 
Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami addressed the concepts of the Share the Journey campaign in an op-ed column Aug. 28 in the Sun Sentinel in Broward County, Fla.
 
"'Share the Journey' invites us to see through the eyes of others rather than turning a blind eye," he wrote. "As Pope Francis says, 'Not just to see but to look. Not just to hear but to listen. Not just to meet and pass by but to stop. And don't just say, 'What a shame, poor people,' but to allow ourselves to be moved by pity.'"
 
The campaign will take advantage of specially designated days throughout the year to raise awareness, including the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12; Lent; the church's observance of National Migration Week in January; World Refugee Day June 20 and the September 2018 United Nations meeting to consider two global compacts on refugees and migration.
 
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 refugees and approach federal policymakers to better allocate international assistance to address the factors that cause people to flee.
 
Together with Catholics worldwide, the U.S. organizers said they hope the campaign will begin to ease the burdens under which migrants and refugees live.
 
"We're mobilizing the worldwide Catholic Church to serve," Witte said. "There are so many networks that the Catholic Church already has that we can infuse an opportunity allow them to live their baptismal call and to stand up for the most vulnerable."
 
  • Published in World
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