Anyone who has ever scanned the arrivals/departures screen at an airport, obsessively searching for news of a loved one’s flight, can relate to the committee members from St. Edward Church in Newark, Calif. They were waiting for the arrival of a family that they did not know and yet already loved, coming to Newark from Afghanistan. St. Edward’s parish is staffed by the Missionaries of the Precious Blood.
Led by Fr. Jim Franck, C.PP.S., and with help from the whole parish, the committee, made up entirely of Companions, organized an effort to sponsor a refugee family through Catholic Charities of the Bay Area. Bishop Michael Barber of the Diocese of Oakland issued an appeal to all parishes in the diocese to consider taking in a refugee family, and, with the enthusiastic support of its pastor, Fr. Jay Nuthulapati, C.PP.S., St. Edward took heed.
“Fr. Jim invited Companions, eight of us, to make it happen,” said Companion Donalyn Deeds, who with her husband, Stan, is on the committee. “We met amongst ourselves first, then met with Catholic Charities, which has been doing this forever.” Other committee members are Companions Mary Elizabeth and Robert Eckstein, Abe and Virginia Abello, and Dave and Maria Elena Byron.
The goal set by Catholic Charities is for a refugee family to become self-sufficient within three months. There is a network of aid in place in addition to what is provided by the host parish, which includes subsidized housing and food stamps. Agencies will help enroll the family in those programs. Refugee families also must have a U.S. tie, someone living here (apart from the parish) who will help the family get settled.
“We’ll help one or both parents find a job; furnish their apartment; teach them how to navigate through public transportation; and help them get to appointments, giving them rides when necessary,” Deeds said.
The parish was anxious to receive its family, not knowing who that family would be. Finally they received notice that their family was on its way: a father, mother and eight-month-old baby boy from Afghanistan. The father speaks English; the mother does not.
On Tuesday, March 7, committee members, along with their associate pastor, Fr. Frankline Rayappa, C.PP.S., were at the airport, waiting for their family, the Ghafooris. “We kept watching their flight number on the screen: delayed, delayed, delayed,” she said. “They were supposed to arrive at 11 p.m. and they got here at 12:15 a.m. on Wednesday. It was such a happy moment. We were all saying, ‘Wow, this is real now. This is happening.’ And what a beautiful family they were.”
The St. Vincent de Paul Society of St. Edward is helping the family by paying for its groceries for the next three months. Committee members have taken them to a local laundromat to show them the ropes. The Ecksteins spent two full days with the family, helping them fill out paperwork at various agencies and offices.
The family is grateful and happy to be here, Deeds said. “They thank us constantly,” she said. “And they are the best parents you can imagine. Little Hamza is so happy and open to people. He smiles all the time.”
For Deeds and others on the committee, supporting the Ghafoori family is an example of Precious Blood spirituality in action. “The first thing that comes to mind for me is our desire to reach out to those on the fringes,” she said. “In today’s world, and sadly, more recently in our own country, who is more on the fringes than Muslim refugees? I actually consider them to have been pushed beyond the fringes. They are under pressure worldwide and even their own countries have betrayed them. How can we not actually hear the cry of Jesus’ Blood in their lives?”
Article and photos provided by Jean Giesige.