You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10: 19
The U.S. welcomed almost 70,000 refugees to the country in 2013, with Texas receiving more than 10 percent of those families, almost double the percentage received by any other state. The legal definition of a refugee is someone who flees their home country due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political persuasion or by being in a targeted social group. The nations producing the most refugees to the U.S. are Iraq, Burma, Bhutan, Somalia and Cuba.
St. Ignatius, through its friendship with Catholic Charities, which directs one of the nation's busiest resettlement programs, coordinates annual opportunites to welcome refugees to the Northwest Houston area by hosting special events for the sharing of culture, friendship, peace and the Gospel of Our Lord, who was himself a refugee.
Email Outreach Director Monica Hatcher for more info, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Texas Catholic Herald News
|Refugees receive hope, hospitality at Thanksgiving feast
By Monica Hatcher
High school youth serve refugees a traditional Thanksgiving meal at a special luncheon in their honor at St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church Nov. 15. (Photo courtesy of St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church)
Culminating weeks of excited preparation, parishioners of St. Ignatius Catholic Church finally flung open the doors of their church and of their hearts to welcome more than 50 refugees from Cuba and African countries for their first Thanksgiving in America.
In a celebration of blessings that bridged religious and cultural differences, parish and refugee families mingled over traditional Thanksgiving fare, sharing stories and getting to know each other via interpreters.
“We made a friend today,” said St. Ignatius parishioner Ruth Kleeman, referring to a Cuban refugee named Henry with whom she and her husband, Bob, shared a table. “He said he’d like to come to Mass.”
Catholic Charities’ Office of Refugee Resettlement and St. Ignatius’ Outreach Ministry to Refugees collaborated in planning the luncheon, though ministries from the entire parish took part in the cooking, serving, decorating, gift drives and hospitality. Staff from Catholic Charities sent the invitations and provided transportation to the event which took place Nov. 15.
The guests, who learned about the quintessential American tradition from a high school youth presentation, are recent arrivals to the U.S., with some having resettled as little as two months ago.
The refugees currently live in an apartment complex not far from the Spring-area parish and receive services from Catholic Charities.
“Whether you are Catholic or not, you are most welcome here, to join our community, our youth programs, our ministries and, most importantly, you are welcome here to worship,” Father Joseph Dang, St. Ignatius’ parochial vicar, said in opening comments.
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston administers one of the busiest refugee resettlement offices in the country with a small but high-energy staff that attends to some 50 new refugees per week.
Margaret Ayot, a refugee program supervisor, said the event was emblematic of the kinds of parish partnerships that help Catholic Charities and the local Church carry out its mission to serve the least among the people.
Father Norbert Maduzia, pastor of St. Ignatius, said he hoped the luncheon was something the parish could do annually as it drew on the gifts and talents of so many different ministries and individuals.
He praised the high school and junior high youth ministries especially for serving food and also coordinating an enormous toiletry drive that provided everyone “with enough toilet paper to last them a year.”
Father Dang later pointed out the luncheon was a wonderful opportunity for parishioners from all walks to welcome “the stranger” to our homeland and to the parish home, particularly at a time when the status of refugees and immigrants is so controversial.
He pointed out that the first Thanksgiving was a feast of thanks to God offered by the Pilgrims, who were themselves refugees fleeing political and religious persecution. As a refugee who narrowly escaped Communist Vietnam with his family, he also identified with the many guests who at great peril had also recently fled Communist oppression in Cuba.
Guests also shared with the group their experiences of seeking safe harbor in America and how grateful they were to be in the country.
The project represented the best of a parish coming together to serve. The Knights of Columbus provided the turkeys. The St. Joseph’s Altar Guild, Christmas Angels and dozens of parishioners brought traditional sides and desserts and also served as table hosts.
The stewardship committee decked the halls with fall décor. The Ministry of Moms donated home furnishings and household appliances for a door prize drawing in which every family left with a gift.
“The refugee luncheon was a great example of faith being lived out by our youth and our adults. It was a distinct honor and privilege to be able to serve and have a meal with our guests,” said Marlon Barao, who leads the junior high youth ministry at St. Ignatius. “We saw Christ in each other,” he said.
Texas Catholic Herald News