by Ken Williams
Refugees are people who leave their home countries due to a fear of persecution for their religion, race or even political party affiliation.
The United States permits approximately 70,000 refugees to enter the country each year. The specific number is decided each year through an iterative process between the president and Congress. Refugees undergo a rigorous interviewing, screening and security clearance process before final admission.
The Catholic Church is one of the largest refugee resettlement agencies in the country. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops contracts directly with the State Department to act on their behalf to resettle our brothers and sisters in their new country.
It’s fitting the Catholic Church is asked to help these families settle into their new homes. Some have spent their entire lives in a refugee camp. Most have lost “everything”: their homes, possessions and even family members. They are physically and mentally exhausted. They suffered through unconscionable trials and conditions, but somehow persevered and finally made their way to Kansas. They are spent and in need of spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
From the moment they step off an airplane, refugees resettled by Catholic Charities are greeted with warm smiles and hugs from staff and volunteers. During the first few months in their new home, they will experience elation, confusion, sadness, joy, depression and even guilt — guilt over loved ones left behind.
They will receive counseling and instruction — forms of the spiritual works of mercy. They will receive food, clothing, shelter and much-needed medical attention — all corporal works of mercy.
Refugees are known for their resilience. Take Show, a young man from Burma, a country sandwiched between India and Thailand.
Show arrived in Kansas last year at the age of 19 and was accompanied by his sister. Show and his sister arrived with few friends or family here in Kansas City. He was diagnosed with stage 4 lupus and suffered a stroke shortly after arrival.
If anyone had a reason to scream, “Why me, Lord?” it would be Show and his sister. After extensive therapy and a number of trips to the hospital, Show is now attending English classes at Catholic Charities. He and his sister are working hard to acclimate to their new home and are making remarkable progress toward independence. They are proud to call themselves Kansans.
Pope Francis continues to call us out of our homes and churches and into the streets. He implores us to personally meet those in need. He knows we will be forever changed.
On Dec. 5 and 6, Archbishop Naumann will invite all parishioners to regularly engage in the works of mercy. Once you meet Show, the rest will be easy.