St. Pius X, Rock Island, to model mercy by adopting Congolese refugee family
ROCK ISLAND — Members of St. Pius X Parish are getting involved in the world’s refugee crisis in a deeply personal way as they prepare to welcome a Congolese family to the Quad Cities. It is an answer to prayer, according to Msgr. Mark Merdian, pastor.
“With the pope’s emphasis on this for the universal church, we thought this would be one way we could assist in implementing Jesus’ love and mercy for those in need,” he told The Catholic Post. “Part of the Year of Mercy is the focus on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and adopting this refugee family helps us to live out our faith in Christ as a parish.”
St. Pius is partnering with World Relief Moline to resettle the family, which includes eight children, ages 2 to 15. Barb Roedel, director of adult faith formation and coordinator of liturgy, said they have been told the family is Christian and speaks Swahili, but don’t know much else.
They don’t even know when the family will arrive. It could be two weeks or two months.
“All I really know is God sent us a family,” she said.
Parishioners were informed at Masses last weekend that the family they had been praying for was on its way, and a core committee of teens and adults has mobilized to get training and start collecting the basic necessities to furnish an apartment or house. World Relief Moline has provided an outline of volunteer opportunities and parishioners will have a chance to consider how they’d like to help, starting this weekend.
“It’s going to be an exciting time for our parish and I hope many people will be involved,” Roedel said.
Amy Rowell, director of World Relief Moline, said the organization resettles refugees from many different places, with a large percentage coming to the Quad Cities from Myanmar (Burma) in recent years. In addition to the Democratic Republic of Congo, families and individuals from the African counties of Burundi, North and South Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia have been assisted, and there have been people from Cuba, Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The refugees are assigned to our office through the U.S. Department of State,” she explained, adding that they do not come into the country unless they have been screened.
While there are many ways to enter the United States, the most difficult way is as a refugee, due to the processing, she said.
“Part of the Year of Mercy is the focus on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and adopting this refugee family helps us to live out our faith in Christ as a parish.” Msgr. Mark Merdian, pastor
One thing the Department of State considers before assigning families or individuals for resettlement is whether or not there is already a population from that country present in the community. In this case, there is a Congolese community in the Quad Cities that can offer support with the language and culture.
“World Relief is ultimately responsible to make sure the resettlement takes place and they get all the services, but it is in partnership with the local church,” Rowell said. “Our mission is to empower churches to serve the most vulnerable.”
Refugee families experience greater success when they have these faith communities walking alongside them, she told The Post. Learning English, getting the right job and making American friends adds to their chance for success, she said.
World Relief offers employment services, immigration services and medical case management. All refugees receive food stamps when they arrive and start paying taxes as soon as they are employed.
After one year they can apply to become a permanent resident and get a green card, Rowell said, and after five years they may apply for citizenship. World Relief helps with both processes.
STARTS WITH PRAYER
For both St. Pius and World Relief Moline, prayer came first.
Roedel approached Msgr. Merdian after Pope Francis adopted Syrian refugee families and encouraged European churches to do the same, and they prayed about it before taking it to the parish council. After more prayerful consideration, the parish moved forward with the idea.
“St. Pius has such a strong commitment to reaching out and helping others,” Msgr. Merdian said. “The pastors before me encouraged and formed the people in this outreach and so we are very much ready and able to assist the refugee family.”
World Relief asks churches to prepare by praying for all refugees in general and that God will place a family into their sphere. Roedel said he did.
“I do not underestimate the abilities of committed Christians to rise to the occasion and to help, especially a refugee family that is fleeing persecution.” — Barb Roedel
“I think there are going to be a lot of challenges in the next year, things that I can’t even foresee,” she said. “But I do not underestimate the abilities of committed Christians to rise to the occasion and to help, especially a refugee family that is fleeing persecution.”
All three acknowledged that there is some fear around the issue of immigration due to recent events and even some misunderstandings.
“I get that,” Rowell said. “But I believe very strongly biblically that we are called to love our neighbor.”
“I think this is a great opportunity for us to put Christ’s love into action,” Msgr. Merdian said.
“As we gather each Sunday and are strengthened by the Eucharist and hear the words of Jesus about doing things for the least of our brothers and sisters, or even the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke, I hope it will help our parish to grow together as one in reaching out in the name of Jesus and our diocese,” he said.