A small dog-eared photo on my desk, cut from a newspaper, has greeted me each day for two years. I saw a young man tenderly carrying a child, walking, maybe running, drenched in rain on a war-torn road; smoke perhaps from a recent bomb, billowing upward behind them. My heart ached as it seemed some days as if he was walking into my life and I was saying “What can I do?” I remembered a passage in Job 31:32: “the stranger has not lodged in the street; (for) I have opened my doors to the traveler.”
A year ago, May 25, 2016, a young refugee, his wife and son, literally walked into my life and our journey together began.
Troubled by the rhetoric of hate and the unwelcoming attitudes tossed about in our country, I sought an opportunity to join in a communal effort of refugee resettlement and accompaniment. Such a group was being formed among the parishes here in Alameda, Calif., partnering with Catholic Charities of the East Bay to welcome the stranger. I readied myself for this ministry entering into a process of discernment, prying open my heart; in some ways I had become hardened by recent events and my trust in the ever-present God was ebbing away. I looked at the photo on my desk, smiled and signed up to join this ministry of accompaniment.
Accompaniment invites us to listen with a contemplative openness clearing away those blocks to hearing what the other is saying and seeing with eyes of the heart what is needed. As someone has said, it requires that we “remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.” Daily I remembered this attitude and endeavored to hold it through the ups and downs of walking with the family through their period of adjustment to so much NEW in their young lives; we cried together and laughed our way along, always celebrating the reality that “ALLAH IS WITH US, SISTER PAT!”
We are now, 13 months later, approaching the moment of this family’s stepping out, as it were, on their own. Oh, yes, we are friends and will continue to be as they make their way forward. Two days ago, on the one-year anniversary of the day they had left Afghanistan, we spoke before a group of 125 school children and the family told their story. I and others spoke of what we had done together and at the end, I thanked the young man, his child and his wife for teaching me to trust once again, to take risks knowing that “ALLAH IS WITH US, Sister Pat.”
Pat Nagle, IHM
Please remember World Refugee Day, June 20, 2017
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