Welcoming the stranger pays dividends for both them and us

Lauren Solidum is the executive director of Catholic Charities.

by Lauren Solidum

The Gospel of Matthew mandates we “welcome the stranger.”

The Book of Leviticus commands that we not “mistreat foreigners who live in your land.” The Book of Deuteronomy and the Letter to the Hebrews follow the same notion.

Clearly, the Bible confirms our obligation to treat strangers and foreigners with dignity and value.

Last year, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas welcomed and provided support for 204 refugees. That number is nearly half of what it was two years prior. 

Why? This year, the limit for refugee admissions into the U.S. is capped at 18,000 persons — a 40% drop from last year’s historic low of 30,000. For perspective, the admissions ceiling was 110,000 refugees in 2017.

While the number of resettlements decreases, the number of refugees being displaced still exists. Lowering the limit and turning them away does not remove the injustice.

The text in the First Letter of  Peter reminds us that we are all foreigners. So, by definition, who can be a stranger? Everyone and no one. 

They are our neighbors — our friends, colleagues, students and acquaintances. They are business owners and consumers. They are the people we see every day and the people we have yet to meet. They are people like Liliane.

Liliane is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo who was resettled by Catholic Charities in 2017. Adept in hand sewing, Liliane wanted to continue utilizing this skill as a means of earning income. She didn’t, however, have any familiarity with modern electric or industrial machines. 

Through our Refugee Employment Program, we coordinated efforts with a local organization, Rightfully Sewn, that offers sewing classes to at-risk women in Kansas City. Upon graduation, Liliane applied her craft at a local company performing custom-tailoring and alterations until she and her husband welcomed their new baby. 

Caring for her family, coupled with the need to contribute financially, led Liliane to fulfill her dream of operating her own sewing business. 

To support this endeavor, Catholic Charities paired Liliane with a mentor to teach her about tracking expenses and filing taxes. Liliane also learned valuable marketing skills about expanding her brand online. Before long, orders began pouring in.

Liliane is now responsible for making custom dresses, church uniforms, pants and blouses, creating a positive impact on the local economy. She plans to expand her business to employ more people as a way to give back to her community. 

Liliane is an example of the resiliency many refugees possess, despite the challenges they face in their new country. When we welcome the stranger, we put love into action and create opportunities that favorably affect our communities.

Biblical scholars argue that “stranger” and “neighbor” are, in fact, synonymous. So, let’s welcome the stranger and love thy neighbor. 

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