Catholic Charities continues to assist families seeking asylum

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Cardinal Cupich washes the feet of Venezuelan refugees on Holy Thursday, April 6, 2023 at Holy Name Cathedral. The symbolic act of feet washing imitates the example of Jesus at the Last Supper who washed the feet of the Twelve Apostles as a gesture of His servitude, humility and love to all. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Last summer, as thousands of families began arriving in Chicago seeking asylum, Catholic Charities was on the ground doing intakes and providing case management for them, said Brittany McGhee, senior director of mission engagement at Catholic Charities.

Those efforts continue as Catholic Charities works with local parishes through the Parish Family Sponsorship Program, which receives funding through the Welcome the Stranger Fund. Over $500,000 has been raised so far, McGhee said.

As part of the sponsorship, parishes can apply for $10,000 grants to help them cover six months of rent for families and accompany them in their journey to get settled. Parishes with fewer financial resources are paired with those that can provide support. Catholic Charities created a toolkit that walks parishes through the process.

“In partnership, the Catholic Church, Catholic Charities and specifically our parishes have really stepped up in a way that I think just really has been a powerful witness of what it means to be Catholic and present to our times,” McGhee said. “Our goal at Catholic Charities is and has been mutual meaningful partnerships with parishes across Chicagoland. This program, the Parish Family Sponsorship Program that we’ve been able to really build, is a wonderful example of that partnership with our parishes.”

Twenty-one parishes are participating so far, McGhee said, and have helped 45 families. Three of those families have expectant mothers, so Catholic Charities has been coordinating medical appointments and helping them get the care they need.

“You can imagine the joy of being pregnant but then the potential stress of just arriving at this new place, not necessarily having a network or knowing anyone. So the role of the parishes and the guidance of Catholic Charities for these moms is critical,” McGhee said.

Catholic Charities and the parishes are also helping all of the children enroll in school.

“Our team at Catholic Charities works really carefully to understand the family’s situation and then match them with a local parish,” McGhee said. “There is a lot of intentionality that goes into the matching of a parish with a family. We want to make sure that we’re mindful and prayerful about that part of the journey.”

The agency helps the parishes through the process of accompanying a family, which includes finding housing, getting furniture and other household items, putting them in touch with social services and helping them acclimate to their new home. They also continue to provide case management for each family, McGhee said.

The parishes and Catholic Charities convene quarterly to share best practices, and the agency is developing a resource portal so the parishes can partner more.

“The parishes are really the star of the story. They get to know the family closely. The families have just become a part of their local parish communities in really beautiful ways,” she said.

Many more families need help and much more work can be done, she continued.

“At this time we’re excited to say that we have representation from each vicariate in the archdiocese and representing many different neighborhoods and communities, which is really wonderful,” she said, adding that they continue to hear from additional parishes who want to participate.

McGhee said she is amazed by the outpouring from the Catholic community to help the asylum seekers.

“We’ve just been really blessed by the generosity of Catholics across Chicagoland and in particular our parishes who are shepherding their parishes through just a greater understanding of why this is such an important initiative,” she said. “We’ve been sort of summoned by Cardinal Cupich that this is exactly what we should be doing as Catholics. This is what it means to be Catholic, to welcome the stranger, to accompany the other, to recognize the dignity and sanctity in people we don’t know.”


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