In El Cajon, California, a parish composed mostly of refugees and asylees gathers each week to celebrate Mass in the Syriac rite. Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish is part of the Syriac Catholic Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance and is the center of the community for its members, most of whom fled from Iraq. In my visits to this community last year, I found a faith life that was truly awe inspiring. They are united by their faith and by their culture, and their pastor leads them to building community with one another.
During my first visit in June, I discovered how deeply the pain of their past runs. I was there with Bishop Yousif Behnam Habash, leader of the diocese and a member of the Subcommittee on the Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers, as well as Deacon David Hamel, from Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Tulsa, to have a discussion with refugees from the parish and to learn from their experiences and needs as we seek to assist bishops and their dioceses in offering pastoral care to these communities.
The conversation turned to forgiveness. Bishop Habash began to share the importance of forgiving those who have hurt us. He is a leader who is no stranger to this sometimes difficult task. An Iraqi himself, he knows the pain that many in his home country suffer.
As the conversation continued, I noticed a man in the crowd. He was sitting there, listening, and he began to cry. I knew that many in the room had suffered greatly before they came to the United States, but I was not prepared to hear what he would share.
This man shared that his daughter had been killed in Iraq and he was forced to flee to escape the violence. The pain of losing his family and being forced out of his home country was so much to bear. And the task of forgiveness seemed daunting.
So many members of this community carry the pain of a traumatic past. But they carry it to this parish where they find comfort and community with one another. They rely on one another, support one another, celebrate together, and pray together.
During a visit in November, the women’s prayer group invited me to join them for one of their weekday prayer meetings. Many of the women don’t speak English, but they welcomed me and shared their prayer with me. After prayer, everyone met for coffee and donuts and sat around chatting, sharing news and stories, laughing and eating. Their bonds of faith connected and fortified them as they built their lives in the United States.
But this community is not without needs. Refugees and asylees, in particular, need pastoral care to go hand in hand with their humanitarian care. By supporting The Catholic Relief Services Collection, you can help provide pastoral care to marginalized groups around the country. Your support to this national collection will help bring the Gospel to people, like migrants, refugees and travelers, who need to hear its message of comfort and hope.