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Monday, November 28, 2016

Parishes play a vital role in refugee resettlement

In the worldwide refugee crisis, U.S. Catholic parishes provide a warm welcome to those who must leave their homes.

When a woman had to quickly flee the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to the United States after her husband was murdered because of political strife, parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Louisville, Kentucky were there for her. In the process of leaving her home country, she had lost track of her three sons. But with the help of the parish and social media, her sons were tracked down in Rwanda, where they had sought refuge, and were joined together with their mother. Parishioners at St. Francis helped facilitate the reunion.

For decades, refugee resettlement has been an essential component of the social justice ministry at St. Francis, where the local Catholic Charities is the resettlement agency for the state. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Louisville has been resettling refugees since 1992. The state gave the agency sole responsibility to run the refugee resettlement there eight years later. 

The parish began welcoming Vietnamese refugees who arrived in the 1970s. Now the parish helps resettle refugees from the DRC, Nepal, and Iraq. Among those whom the parish has helped resettle is the family of an Iraqi translator whose cooperation with the United States made him a target for assassination.

For Father Lou Meiman, pastor of St. Francis, refugee resettlement is a concrete reminder of the church's social justice vision and a way to move that doctrine beyond flowery goodwill statements. "It's enriched the life of the parish to have a connection with the people who are the least of these," he says. 

Catholic parishes around the country, like St. Francis, play a vital role in the global refugee crisis by welcoming newcomers. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that in 2015, of the 65.3 million displaced persons worldwide, 21.3 million were refugees. 
"It's not about doing things for people but being with people," Father Meiman says. "They are part of our lives and part of our community. They are human beings with faces, lives, and stories. It's a wonderful witness for our children. It makes the gospel a real thing."
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