Building Loving Relationships
By Vicki Welsh, Associate
“… We choose to act justly, to build loving relationships, to share our resources with those in need and to care for all creation.” From the Mission Statement of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati
“The Sister of Charity of Cincinnati and Associates commit ourselves to be informed about the human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and call on our government to do everything in its power to end the violent conflicts there.” 2010 Congregational Stand on the DRC
Using these two statements as backdrop, I interviewed S. Sandy Howe to get an overview of our Newcomers Transitions Program and an update on its progress after six months. First, let’s meet our asylum seeking family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Father, Samuel, is a handyman, a sort of jack-of-all-trades. Mother, Marie, is a house wife. Their youngest son, Samuel, is 7 years old, and their daughter, Samuel(a) (not pronounced like her brother’s name), is 3 years old. There are three other siblings 16, 18, and 20, who had to stay back in the DRC.
Their trip to the United States was arduous, to say the least. It took six months passing through 11 countries before arriving in Texas, where they presented themselves to Homeland Security, as asylum seekers. There was no church available locally to take the family in, so they contacted Casa Marianella. LCWR respects the work of Casa Marianella, and often promotes their needs on their mailing list to directors of peace and justice offices. Debbie Weber, director of the Sisters of Charity Office of Peace, Justice and Care for Creation, saw the plea to religious communities with room to take asylum seekers who have no other sponsor in the U.S. and informed SC Leadership Team members.
In response the Leadership Council invited Sister of Charity Sandy Howe to consider a new ministry, coordinating a program for asylum families here at Mount St. Joseph. Just coming off of a 30-day retreat, S. Sandy was looking for a sign of where God might want and need her. This opportunity, she said, appeared to be that new, challenging ministry she was looking for.
The first family arrived on Sept. 24, 2018, and settled in to one of the available residences at Mount St. Joseph. S. Sandy was named program coordinator of the Newcomers Transitions Program and Pat Plogmann, Associate, as her assistant.
What does such a commitment involve? The host sponsor, in this case the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, helps the family develop a resettlement plan which includes finding affordable housing and transportation, enrolling in appropriate educational programs, retaining legal and health care services, and seeking employment. As they have begun to make connections with a parish community, they have found this spiritual support to encourage them in this long process of asylum seeking.
Catholic Charities assisted the family in obtaining legal counsel. As they await court dates, our family is learning English. Mom and Dad are enrolled in a program, also through Catholic Charities, that is helping them develop job skills for work in the U.S.
In the short time that the program has been in place, the ministry has brought with it many blessings and successes. “The parents take English classes daily and are now on level two,” S. Sandy explains. “Samuel, the 7-year-old boy, is doing great in first grade, he is really smart and excels in math. Samuel(a), the 3-year-old girl, is in preschool and enjoys going to school and spending time with her new little friends and learning new things. She is thriving in her English.”
The family arrived speaking Lingala as their primary language, with a smattering of French. Communication was more than tricky at the beginning. Through the help of French-speaking Sisters and Associates, as well as translation apps on cell phones, and their school/classes, communication has improved. They also have found a few people who speak Lingala at their local parish where they attend Mass weekly.
Their arrival has enabled the Charity hospitality to shine through. “Sisters and Associates have been so welcoming with our family and very supportive, through their thoughts and prayers, their friendliness and acceptance, and their willingness to share in what is happening with the family. They also have been generous with clothes, toys, gift cards, etc. I am most grateful for their constant support and inquiries about how we are all doing – the family and the various volunteers who are assisting,” says S. Sandy. “The family is very grateful for all.”
Sandy concluded, “This new ministry has brought me more joy, delight and laughter than I ever anticipated. I am so very grateful. Not only do I pray for them, their family here and those left in the DRC, but they also pray for me and my family.”
The Newcomers Transitions Program has shown that the Sisters of Charity continue to seek new opportunities to live their mission of acting justly, building loving relationships, and sharing resources with those in need.