Catholic Charities helps immigrants

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In its 2000 statement on immigration, "Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity," the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote, "The church of the 21st century will be, as it has always been, a church of many cultures, languages and traditions, yet simultaneously one, as God is one - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - unity in diversity."

The changing face of the church and the role of immigrants in that change were the topics of discussion at Arlington Diocesan Catholic Charities' quarterly parish liaison meeting April 22 at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna.

In his opening remarks, Art Bennett, CEO and president of Catholic Charities, said the way to help people on the fringes of society is through love.

"(Jesus) liked to be with the wounded, the people on the periphery," said Bennett.

People are coming to this country because they are running away from injustice, and they should not be treated like "a stranger in a strange land," he said.

Jessica Tappel, bilingual counselor, spoke next on the challenges faced by immigrants. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2050, 30 percent of the U.S. population will identify as Hispanic/Latino. The Latino population is growing in the region with Hispanics making up 20 percent of the population of Prince William County and 16 percent in Fairfax County.

"They won't be strangers much longer," she said.

This increase in the immigrant population means demands for mental health services also will increase. Many of the emotional stresses come from issues surrounding ethnic identity, acculturation and discrimination. According to Tappel, this ethnic and acculturation issue is a result of trying to reconcile the traditional, patriarchal and collectivist cultures of Latinos with the egalitarian and individualist cultures of Europeans and Americans. The problem is that many Latinos with emotional issues do not seek help because of the stigma involved; they feel embarrassment and social discrimination.

Next, Brooke Hammond Pérez, program director for Hogar Immigrant Services, spoke on their education and legal services.

Hogar's English for Speakers of Other Languages program teaches English to more than 1,700 students annually, said Perez. More than 800 volunteers teach in the ESOL program. In addition, Hogar offers legal immigration and naturalization programs and workshops. Perez said that parishes can help by providing space for classes, recruit volunteers, provide donations like laptops and help with outreach to the community.

Stacy Jones, supervising attorney in Hogar's Unaccompanied Children Program, said that unaccompanied children are fleeing Latin and Central American countries at an increasing rate.

"Why would they make this dangerous journey?" Jones asked.

She said there's no simple answer, but it could be a breakdown in the rule of law in their country.

There were presentations by leaders of three parishes on what their churches are doing to help immigrants.

Dick Quintana, the liaison from All Saints Church in Manassas, said that 40 percent of his parish is Latino.

His ministry provides an opportunity for all parishioners, immigrant and non-immigrant, to participate in the same parish community. All are invited to parish activities, and there are bilingual services offered at many events.

Francis is a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and said the group offers legal help and bimonthly transportation services to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottsville.

Francis shared his successes with the group. He said you need to be in solidarity with the USCCB. You need to get to know and become involved with your parish immigrant community. Plus, you need to develop plans, get buy-in from the pastor and seek partnerships in the diocese and community.

Father Gerry Creedon, pastor of Holy Family Church in Dale City, said that his parish of 4,000 households has about a 50 to 60 percent Latino population. There is also a strong African and Asian presence.

Father Creedon said that we need to show the immigrant respect.

"Don't hassle them," he said. "(They) need to come out of the shadows."

Katie Esser from Good Shepherd Church in Alexandria shared four things she believes will connect you to the immigrant community: create trust, celebrate together, build a sense of community and advocate together.

As participants left for the day, they shared their thoughts. Christine Purtell from St. Matthew Church in Spotsylvania said her parish does not have a large immigrant population, but she found the workshop to be helpful, but intense.

Laura Paul, a parishioner from Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria, was one of three representatives from her parish.

"The legal services portion was very interesting," she said. "We have a very active Hispanic community."

All of the liaisons realized the impact of immigration on the church.

Father Creedon said that some people balk at the change in parish identity. One older man came to him and said, "I can't deal with all this transition. It's making me sick."

He told the man that change is coming.

"Our generation goes to funerals. Theirs go to weddings," said Father Creedon. "They're renewing the church."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015