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Welcoming the stranger on World Refugee Day

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They came into a place where they didn’t speak the language. They hadn’t eaten the cuisine before and they didn’t know the customs. But local Catholics still could enjoy a cup of tea and simple conversation while delivering bags of food to the homes of recent immigrants. 

“On June 20, we celebrate World Refugee Day, welcoming and praying for all refugees, asylees, special immigrant visa holders, and other secondary migrants who were forced to flee the violence or destitution of their homelands,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge in a statement. “As we raise awareness for newcomers who have recently arrived in our country and Diocese, may we also stand with refugees and commemorate their courage, resilience and perseverance. May we always remember to ‘treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and … love him as yourself, for (we) were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Lv.19:34).” 

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Bishop Burbidge and several other volunteers from the diocese distributed culturally appropriate food to families resettled by diocesan Catholic Charities, primarily people from Afghanistan who previously worked for the U.S. government. Stepping into the shoes of the newcomers, native Americans spent time learning about the Islamic holiday Eid al-Fitr and nibbling on cookies and apricots. 

One of the families lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Alexandria. As the volunteers walked in, an Afghan music video was on the television. The youngest of their nine children was playing with toy trucks.

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The father, Sayed Jan Aqa Paikar, said the family lived in Philadelphia for four months but were unable to find permanent housing until Catholic Charities here helped them. Using a wall rug that pictured Afghanistan, he gave his visitors a quick tour of his homeland.

Bishop Burbidge, who visited a family from El Salvador living in Manassas, invited all to pray for those starting a new life in the U.S.

“Join us as we show solidarity with refugees by remembering that they are here to flee from discrimination, violence and destitution,” he said. “We can extend God’s love to these individuals by supporting the work of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, whose Migration and Refugee Services office (CCDA MRS) has resettled more than 29,000 refugees and helped them successfully find jobs and integrate into our communities since 1975.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018