‘It touches at the heart of the Gospel, welcoming the stranger.’
CHARLOTTE — St. Gabriel parishioners, heeding the plea from Pope Francis for parishes to shelter refugees, have responded to the call to assist a family fleeing ethnic and religious persecution.
Last March parishioners, in partnership with Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte, welcomed a family of four from Myanmar – the first refugees to be served by the new Refugee Resettlement Ministry at the Charlotte parish.
The Khai family – father Gin Sian, 28, mother Cing Pi, 27, son Joshua, 3, and daughter Zo Nu, 2 – belong to the Chin minority ethnic group from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). The Chin people have suffered widespread and ongoing ethnic and religious persecution since the overthrow of the democratically elected government in 1962. The family entered the U.S. after spending several years in Malaysia awaiting United Nations refugee status and U.S. entry approval.
St. Gabriel’s Refugee Resettlement Ministry is comprised of 20 volunteers who began planning to welcome the Khai family last January. The Homemakers of Mercy Ministry (a partnership between St. Gabriel and St. Matthew churches) helped by providing household goods for their first apartment – including silverware, lamps, towels and furniture.
Refugee Resettlement Ministry volunteers set up the apartment, stocked the refrigerator and pantry, and welcomed the family at the airport when they arrived. Since then, volunteers have provided English tutoring, taken the family on outings to Discovery Place and parks, and assisted with basic household management (paying bills, helping with doctor appointments, driving, purchasing bus passes for Khai and Cing Pi to attend ESL classes), and provided the family with essential items not covered by government assistance.
Besides group dinners, the Refugee Resettlement Ministry hosted birthday parties for Joshua and Zo Nu, set up a Christmas tree, and organized play dates and basic language lessons. Most importantly, the Refugee Resettlement Ministry provides a support system and friendship network to the Khai family as they adjust to living in their new home.
“In nine months, this young family of four has made tremendous progress in assimilating to their new home,” said Karen Brown, volunteer coordinator at St. Gabriel Church. “The father of this family (now) has full-time employment and recently got his driver’s permit.”
Speaking through a translator provided by Catholic Charities Office of Refugee Resettlement, Khai and Cing Pi expressed their gratitude for everyone’s efforts in welcoming them and shared that they felt that “the furnishing of the apartment was excellent.”
“We are very happy to be here because we have freedom,” Khai said. “We believe we will be successful because we have a lot of opportunities, especially the well-established system of the government, good education, etc.”
Father Frank O’Rourke, pastor, said the Refugee Resettlement Ministry continues the longtime commitment people in the Charlotte diocese have had to welcoming refugees.
“I was introduced to this ministry on my arrival in 1975 when Catholic Charities was working with Vietnamese refugees.
“It touches at the heart of the Gospel – welcoming the stranger. It attracts many hands and hearts who find joy in providing every imaginable need and blesses those who give and receive,” Father O’Rourke said.
— SueAnn Howell, Senior Reporter; Karen Brown contributed.