By Colleen Rowan
Catholic News Service
WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) — Catholic Charities West Virginia and parish communities in the state have worked to help provide refugees with a fresh start in a new country.
Pa Tin, 42, his wife Biak Hlei Iang, 34, and their children — 8-year-old Rebecca Rem Chin Par and Van Dawt Sung, who is almost 3 — are happily living in Ranson in the Eastern Panhandle. They are among the newcomers the agency has assisted as they adjust to a new life.
The family is from Myanmar, and arrived in Ranson last year. Pa Tin and his family are Catholic and are becoming members of St. James Parish in neighboring Charles Town. The family enjoys attending Mass, reading the Bible, taking walks together, playing and gardening.
Pa Tin said the family enjoys meeting their new neighbors and because people are kind, especially the Catholic community that has stepped in to help as they adapt to a new environment, food and language. “People here are very friendly and helpful,” he told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
When the family arrived in the U.S., they were met by Brittany Young, case manager for Catholic Charities’ Eastern Panhandle Immigration and Rural Outreach Office.
“They rented a house for us and it was filled with all the necessities,” Pa Tin said. “We thank God and the people who help us abundantly to settle here peacefully. We are very blessed to be cared (for) by the Catholic Charities, and may God richly continue blessing them.”
St. James parishioners also have given the family a warm welcome.
“They are super helpful, and we really appreciated them,” Pa Tin explained. “They got me and my wife a job and helped our daughter Rebecca enroll (at) St. Joseph Catholic School in Martinsburg and paid for the tuition fee. St. James Church members are very friendly. They do transportation for our family to work, school and church. During Christmas season, we also received lots of gifts from the church members and we are very thankful.”
Pa Tin said that he and his family are happy to be in West Virginia and are grateful to all who have helped them along the way.
“Above all, we are very thankful to God for giving us this wonderful opportunity to adjust (to) a new culture, and meeting great people,” he said. “We like to say thank you to everyone who welcomed us to the United States. We also like to thank the government for taking refugees and giving us a chance to have a better life. We would like to give our gratitude to the Catholic Charities and St. James Church members. We anticipate to become a member of St. James Church soon.”
Father John Finnell, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in South Charleston, which sponsored a refugee family in their resettlement, offered advice to people who never have been directly involved with outreach efforts. “To respect each person as an individual, and not have any prejudged ideas. Just get to know them, individually, as people,” he said.
“We collaborated with Catholic Charities to welcome a family from Iraq … five or six years ago,” Father Finnell said. “This was a mom, dad and three children. The dad had served as an interpreter for American military in Iraq, and he and his family were threatened because of that. We were the initial sponsoring group (Blessed Sacrament Parish).”
Blessed Sacrament helped provide housing, financial assistance and more. Some parishioners took the kids to playdates at the swimming pool, Father Finnell said.
When the family arrived in the area, the parish held a welcoming after a Sunday Mass where parishioners introduced themselves and got to know the family. “That certainly raised the consciousness of the people in the parish to understand that these were not just abstract categories, but very real people,” Father Finnell said, “very lovable, delightful, friendly people.”
In the years the family lived in the area, they always attended parish functions. A few years after their arrival, they moved to another state.
Young said she has been awed by the families she assists.
“As a case manager, I often go to the homes of refugees to visit,” she said. “I am always greeted warmly and often offered a beverage or food. The care that a refugee family takes to make me feel welcome in their home is a perfect example of what it means to welcome the stranger. The resilience of the families with which I interact is astounding when you think about the persecution that they fled and makes their acts of kindness and selflessness towards me even more special. I only hope that I reflect that welcoming spirit to them as well.”
Catholic Charities of West Virginia also has a Migration and Refugee Services Office in Moorefield. Services offered by the agency include English language instruction, immigration assistance and job placement.
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Rowan is executive editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia.