Parishioners of St. Alphonsus Church in Pittsford are among members of nine faith communities helping build a “Bridge to Rutland” for a family of three seeking asylum in Vermont.

Bridge to Rutland is a coalition of the faith communities and four social justice groups working to sponsor asylum seekers in Rutland.

Earlier this year St. Alphonsus Parish had a second collection that raised $983 to help the family— that has attended Mass there — with rent.

“To welcome the stranger is to welcome Christ,” said Ernie M. Clerihew, a parishioner of St. Alphonsus and a member of Bridge to Rutland who initiated the collection at the church. “I was educated by Jesuits, and I like to see Catholic social teaching put into action.”

According to him, this family is residing legally in the United States but neither mother nor father is allowed to seek work until six months after their asylum paperwork has been approved.

Several parishioners of St. Alphonsus Church are connected with Bridge to Rutland and shared their knowledge, passion and calling with their church family to live out their faith and support the young family that arrived in June.

Parishioners donated material goods worth several hundred dollars and made other monetary donations.

“Asylum is a protection guaranteed by US and international law to a foreigner already living in the United States or a person arriving at the border who is unable to safely return to their home country because of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion,” explained Ellen Green, Bridge to Rutland executive director. “Sponsorship means providing for all needs for the asylees because, unlike refugees, they are not supported in any way by the government. Bridge to Rutland surrounds the asylees with a community of care, housing, food, clothing, legal support, medical support, English language learning and above all, safety.”

Clerihew sees these efforts as part of the Gospel call to serve and love one another in meaningful ways. “Love is an action not a feeling, and love is the only way to solve the world’s many social problems,” he said.

Sheltering the homeless is a Corporal Work of Mercy. “The church is the Body of Christ, the community of the beloved, for whom sharing God’s love is one of Jesus’ commandments,” Green said. “The community is then tasked with working as the Body of Christ to love, shelter, feed, clothe and visit those in whom we see God asking for our help, as we saw in Matthew’s Gospel” chapter 25.

“God calls us to see God in the ‘other’ and recognize our common humanity,” she continued. “How can we abandon our brothers and sisters who need our help?  … We can learn so much from people who have sacrificed home and family to find safety with integrity rather than give in to the threats at home. We can recognize that they bring gifts in the form of new ways of looking at the world, new foods, new culture and the will to work and contribute to their new communities. In a new era of labor shortages, we can’t turn away people who want to work, who want to use their skills to help build our communities, who will be part of our growing economies. Carrying out what God has asked us to do is a win-win.”

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—Originally published in the Winter 2021 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.