Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago has been working with the more than 3,600 asylum seekers who arrived in Chicago on buses by mid-November seeking to make a new start in the United States. Now parishes can help by sponsoring such families and accompanying them in getting established.
The last week of November, Catholic Charities and a new advisory group composed of clergy, religious and lay people sent a letter to parishes inviting them to online meetings — one in English and one in Spanish — that will outline this new effort.
Father Larry Dowling, pastor of St. Agatha-St. Martin de Porres Parish, chairs the advisory group and said it will act as a liaison between Catholic Charities and the parishes, individuals or groups that will sponsor and accompany the families.
The advisory group consulted with a working group of more than 65 people from around the archdiocese for ideas on how to best help the asylum seekers, who are mostly from Venezuela. The group used that advice to develop a toolkit that explains the steps of accompaniment.
Each family will be assigned a case manager through Catholic Charities, who will also serve as a liaison with the sponsoring parish to identify the family’s needs.
As part of the sponsorship, parishes would cover six months of rent for families. Parishes with fewer financial resources will be paired with those that can provide financial support. When necessary, funds from the second collection held in parishes on Nov. 6 can fill in the gaps, Dowling said.
“Anyone that really wants to sponsor a family, we will accompany them all along the way and make sure that monetary resources are there if they need them as well to support their accompaniment of the family,” Dowling said.
The hope is that over the six months, the families, with the help of the parishes and Catholic Charities, will establish a good foundation to build on.
“We’re really trying to make it as easy as possible for parishes, or individuals or groups at parishes to accompany them all along the way,” Dowling said, noting that accompaniment means more than providing housing and jobs.
“It’s people to walk with you and encourage you and to be there with you when there’s pitfalls that you’re going to run into, unfortunately,” he said. “That accompaniment piece is huge, and it really only can be done at the local level.”
Having an advisory committee that can work as a go-between to connect Catholic Charities and the parishes has filled a real need, said Dowling, who is involved in various social justice efforts.
“Any way that Catholic Charities can look to the parishes to say, ‘OK, what will be helpful? What are the things that we can partner on?’ is a good thing. Obviously, we need Catholic Charities’ expertise, but we also need the wisdom that comes out of the parish communities,” he said.
Dowling sees the advisory group and new parish sponsorship model being used to respond to other social justice issues.
“In time, we can look to other sectors of people living in Chicago who are trying to rebuild their lives, like women who have been abused, or men and women returning from prison, for example,” he said. “I think of this effort as, we’re building a model and as we progress through this and tweak it where we need to tweak it, we can start looking at other populations that we can reach out to.”
Marilu Gonzalez, City Southwest regional director for Catholic Charities, has been walking with the asylum seekers since the first bus arrived in Chicago.
“The doors to the buses would open and people would start getting off the buses and we would personally say, ‘Bienvenidos a Chicago,’” Gonzalez said. “It was really an extraordinary thing to see, because you really feel the energy and the gratitude that they demonstrated. Sometimes I think we as folks from the U.S. take a lot of that for granted, that these individuals truly felt welcome, welcomed into a country that’s not their own after crossing seven different countries and traveling sometimes two or three months through not just desert but also jungle, sometimes being robbed on the journey, sometimes going without food and simply not knowing what the next thing would bring but continuing on.”
After arriving in Chicago, they have been provided food, clothing and shelter.
“It definitely is a Matthew 25 [situation] without a doubt,” Gonzalez said, citing the Gospel chapter in which Jesus calls on his followers to care for those in need. “It is definitely the Gospel message loud and clear.”
The needs of the people have not really changed since their arrival, Gonzalez said. They still need help with food, clothing and shelter, along with legal assistance, health care, schooling and ESL classes.
“The needs are still the same, but the gratitude is still very much present,” she said, adding that many have decided to make Chicago their home because of the warm welcome they received on their arrival.
The online meetings will take place in Spanish on Dec. 6 at 6:30 p.m. and in English on Dec. 13 at 6:30 p.m. To receive a link to one of the upcoming meetings, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taking advantage of a required public comment period, a broad array of faith leaders and religious groups, including faith-based refugee aid organizations, are speaking out against a proposed federal rule that would generally deny asylum to migrants who arrive at the U.S. southern border without first seeking protection in any country the migrants passed through.
How does a hot, home-cooked meal at no charge on Wednesday evenings sound? For Morgan Park residents, that’s available in the diner in the OSP Community Room at Our Lady of Kibeho Parish.
On Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, archdiocesan parishes will roll out the Disciple Makers Index Survey to all parishioners with the goal of learning where parishioners are in their faith journeys and how the local church can help them grow in that faith.