Resettling refugees: a work of mercy
Helping refugees get resettled involves many of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, said Mary Lu Harding of St. Ambrose Parish in Bristol: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, giving compassion and comfort to the sorrowful “and on and on.”
She is involved in helping Afghan refugees resettle in Vermont through a program of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants Vermont, which, as of early November, was planning to welcome 100 Afghans under the Humanitarian Parole program.
“Getting involved is putting my efforts where my mouth is,” she said. “If we say we believe in mercy, compassion and justice, yet we allow a situation like this to be right in front of us and we do nothing, then we’re no better than the Pharisees who proclaimed their devotion to God while their behavior was cold, callous and self-interested.”
The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan has grabbed international attention since the Taliban gained power after the withdrawal of American troops earlier this year.
“If a refugee escaped with a single suitcase, they were lucky. Many escaped with nothing,” said Harding, who is a liaison between a Lincoln group seeking to help resettle the refugees and St. Ambrose Parish. “I have no idea what they’ve been able to obtain at their processing locations. I believe it’s better to presume they have nothing and be pleasantly surprised than to presume they have things that they don’t.”
Amila Merdzanovic, director of USCRI Vermont, said the first critical need the Afghan refugees would need when they arrive in Vermont is host families. “Our goal, initially, will be to place them with host families primarily in Chittenden County,” but there have been offers in Rutland too.
Another resettlement effort is underway in the Brattleboro area through The Ethiopian Community Development Council Inc.
Merdzanovic was unsure when the refugees would arrive in Vermont.
She suggested Catholics can assist them by becoming their friends to help them acclimate or by donating household items, winter outerwear or funds to purchase needed items.
“Another reason to get involved is to create the world we want to see,” Harding said. “There is so much brutality, hatred and viciousness in our world today. It can be soul-crushing. Our best defense as well as our hope for a better world is to act to change that. These (refugee) people have had front-row seats to horror and violence that we can scarcely imagine. It’s time they experienced some love. It’s also time we got off the couch and gave some love. The benefits work both ways.”
—Originally published in the Winter 2021 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.