Diocese wants to welcome the stranger

GREENVILLE — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration declared the week of Jan. 4-10 as National Migration Week.

The Diocese of Charleston is joining dioceses from across the United States and elsewhere in addressing the circumstances of migration across the American continent.

“What it’s all about is welcoming the stranger among us,” said Kathleen Merritt, who oversees the Office of Ethnic Ministries for the Diocese of Charles-ton. “It’s an educational process of making the church more welcoming to refugees and migrants.”

According to the World Refugee Survey 2003, there are more than 13 million refugees worldwide.

“Yet, in the face of this profound human suffering, the United States admitted barely 27,000 refugees to resettlement in 2002 – the lowest number of refugees allowed to begin a new life in the United States in over 20 years,” wrote Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, coadjutor bishop of Orlando and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, in a letter for National Migration Week.

“Clearly, we have a long road to travel,” Bishop Wenski said.

In South Carolina, the largest ethnic group is of white, European descent, according to the 2002 diocesan census, followed by Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, Irish Travelers, Central Americans, Indians and Portuguese.

Merritt said that the diocese hasn’t been able to address every need of each group. Around 75 percent of parishes provide organized outreach and hospitality to newcomers, she said.

“We offer weekly Masses in Vietnamese, Spanish and Korean across the diocese,” Merritt said.

Cultural celebrations are also offered on both the diocesan and parish level.

The African-American, Hispanic and Vietnamese populations currently get the majority of the diocese’s attention, Merritt said.

“This is an area which our diocese is in need of improvement. More effort is needed to address the needs of all the different ethnic groups and not just the top three,” she said.

To help sustain the National Migration Week effort into the New Year, the diocese has received a $5,000 grant from Migration and Refugee Services of the USCCB to help implement its “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity” program.

Working with the diocese’s Office of Planning, next spring the Office of Ethnic Ministries will hold training sessions in each of the five deaneries.

“We will be helping the parishes develop a plan for welcoming the strangers, those of different cultures,” Merritt said.

She said the diocese will use the Unity in Diversity training program as a model. The training, which Merritt recently took part in, was developed through the USCCB.

“Our main objective is to provide training that will empower our parishes, schools, missions and outreach centers to develop a plan that will address the needs of the ‘strangers among us,’ ” Merritt said.

The grant will be combined with $6,000 in diocesan funding to implement the three-year project.

Catholic schools, religious education and youth programs in the diocese received packets explaining National Mi-gration Week and offer-ing activities and study guides.

There’s also a list of activities for individuals, churches and parishes, which they can do in observance of National Migration Week.

All of the material is explained in both English and Spanish.

Bishop Wenski said this country’s call to do more for migrants and refugees is louder than ever before, particularly given the current turmoil in the Middle East and the still vivid images of Sept. 11, 2001.

“It is tempting to give into our fear and retreat into the mindset of a fortress America,” Bishop Wenski wrote. “As Catholics, however, this is not an option. It is precisely in times like these that Jesus calls us anew to welcome the stranger among us, to be traveling companions to those on the move.”

For additional resources

Contact the Office of Migrant and Refugee Services for publications to help “welcome the stranger” in your parish or community. Look on the Web at www.usccb.org/mrs/pubs.htm or call the office at (202) 541-3000.