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St. Agnes parishioners reach out to refugees

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St. Agnes Church in Arlington is taking Pope Francis’ call to help refugees literally and has initiated a new program to connect parishioners with the 250 refugee families that will start arriving in the area this October.


"We have to get ourselves out of our own little world and imagine what it is like to lose everything and not have a place to stay." Fr. Frederick H. Edlefsen

Father Frederick H. Edlefsen, pastor of St. Agnes, was inspired to start the program after Pope Francis’ example and after talking with several immigrant families who attended parish events during the past year.


“They have suffered a lot and their stories are very interesting and can give you quite a bit of empathy,” said Father Edlefsen. “We have to get ourselves out of our own little world and imagine what it is like to lose everything and not have a place to stay.”


St. Agnes unveiled the new program after all the Masses Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. Catholic charities workers Beth Fitzpatrick and Gregory McKinney spoke during the Masses.


According to McKinney, Catholic Charities Migration and Refugees Services office supervisor, the single biggest group that the Arlington MRS helps is people from Afghanistan who served alongside the U.S. military. “Financial support ends four months after arrival,” said McKinney. “Our ability to extend support depends on parishes like St. Agnes.”


He encouraged parishioners to sign up for at least one of three volunteer opportunities: donating household items; financial donations and gift cards; or one-on-one opportunities to work directly with the refugees.


Some of the direct volunteering would involve transportation and mentoring. Driving them to medical appointments and job interviews, tutoring or helping them through legal matters.


“This is not a matter of asking for money,” said Father Edlefsen. “This is a matter of asking people what they can do.”


Because of the sensitive nature of some of the work, all volunteers who want to work directly with the refugees will need a background check, and those working with children must go through Virtus training, according to Jean Shirhall, migrant and refugee outreach coordinator for St. Agnes. 


Shirhall has been a parishioner for 40 years and in that time she has never seen this kind of outreach program. She is confident her fellow parishioners will jump at the opportunity.


“They just overwhelm us with how responsive they are so we anticipate that they will give,” she said.


Some 40 parishioners signed up to assist the incoming refugees, and several made financial contributions, according to Amber Roseboom, director of development, outreach and communications for St. Agnes.


“This is just the beginning, as we will continue to sign up volunteers as we accept donations,” said Roseboom. “The effort is a key priority for Father Edlefsen, looking to have a great impact locally by welcoming the stranger.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017