A Community of Mutual Assistance

BC World Refugee Day

Bishop R. Daniel Conlon meeting with refugees at St. Petronille Parish in Glen Ellyn, September 2017

 A World Refugee Day Reflection

By. Kayla Sue Jacobs, Coordinator of Relief & Development, Office for Human Dignity, Diocese of Joliet

June 20, 2018

“I’ll do my best to assist you.” he said without hesitation. I was on the phone with a friend who is a refugee from Iraq. I was talking to him about some projects I was working on and without prompting he offered to help. A month later I found myself on Capitol Hill with him and other refugees and refugee advocates for the Refugee Council USA’s lobby day.

As I was walking around our nation’s capital with him and our other friend, a refugee from Afghanistan, both of whom risked their lives when they served as translators for the US military in the middle east, I thought to myself “how blessed am I?” I couldn’t believe these two men were willing to travel to DC with me to speak on behalf of their community to legislators, some legislators who actively promote and pass policy that negatively affects the lives of refugees. They’re brave.

During that point of my life I was working with Church World Service, a refugee resettlement agency, and my everyday was wrapped up in the refugee community. I had just moved to the area and barely knew anyone. I was constantly being assisted by refugees. The restaurants I frequented were owned by refugees. My uber drivers were refugees. My co-workers and friends were refugees. People I sought spiritual guidance from were refugees. Refugees welcomed me into their homes for companionship and community. I honestly don’t know what I would have done in that new city without them.

This is something US born folks tend to forget: having refugees in our community is mutually beneficial. Not only for the measurable reasons, like economic benefits and a hardworking workforce, but also the spirit they bring to our churches, our schools, and our community as a whole. That is immeasurable. Whether you have experienced it directly or not, your life is better because of the contributions of refugees.  

The United Nations declared today, June 20th, the annual World Refugee Day. World Refugee Day is a time to celebrate refugees in our lives and communities and is a call to advocate for/with refugees. In recent years, and still currently, we have been in the largest refugee crisis the world has seen with over 68.5 million people displaced. Many are children. Meanwhile, the U.S. has implemented policy that negatively affects refugees, such as several travel ban executive orders. Additionally the presidential determination, which is the number of refugees the president sets to be resettled in the US during the fiscal year, is the lowest it has ever been at 45,000 people, and we’re not even on track to reach that low number. It is times such as these that we’re called to cultivate that mutual assistance and act on the refugee crisis.

Many people I talk to about the refugee crisis want to do something to take action but don’t know where to begin. In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us to pray, fast, give alms, and do righteous deeds. Here are some suggestions:

Pray:

 Response: Resurrected Lord, be our refuge.

  • For the safety of displaced people. R
  • For people stuck in conflict zones who don’t have the capacity to move. R
  • For resettled refugees who struggle learning a new language, culture, and job, all while missing their family and loved ones. R
  • For nations, that they find compassionate solutions to the largest refugee crisis the world has ever seen and sensible solutions to address the push factors of war, economic instability, and climate change. R
  • For all individuals to be open to what God is calling us to do for the common good and the refugee community. R   

    -Amen-

Fast: Eat and live simply for the sake of the refugee crisis, use the money you save to…

Give alms: Donate to organizations that are working with refugees:

Righteous Deeds:

Advocate: Use your constituent/prophetic voice and contact your legislators. Tell them an unwelcoming America is not okay, pressure the administration to raise the presidential determination, rescind the travel ban executive orders, and properly fund the Office for Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Here is an action alert you can send today! Are you interested in visiting your members of Congress regarding the refugee crisis? Contact me, Kayla S. Jacobs, and I’ll assist you in that effort: kjacobs@dioceseofjoliet.org    

Volunteer: When refugee families arrive to the US they often, literally, come with only the clothes on their back. Like…literally. World Relief, the local refugee resettlement agency in the Chicago suburbs, accompanies newly arrived refugees. Here is a list of ways you could volunteer, from picking up new arrivals at the airport, to furnishing and setting up their new homes, to teaching ESL.

As we undergo this work of mutual assistance and community building with refugees let us pray through the intercession of the Holy Family. Sts. Joseph and Mary, who fled to Egypt as refugees to save your newborn Son…pray for us! Jesus Christ, our refuge…guide us and have mercy on us! Amen.    

 

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