BY MIKE GABRIELE | November 18, 2017
Editor’s note: This piece was originally published by the Jesuits East and is republished here with permission.
Although nearly 6,000 miles away, Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., responded to the needs of a family in dire straits—a Kurdish family of eight from Syria desperate to find a safer life far from their war-torn region. As parishioners at a Jesuit parish, the Holy Trinity community felt a personal affinity to Pope Francis’ call to help those caught in the ever-escalating global refugee crisis. When they became aware of a Syrian family hoping to flee a daily existence of constant danger, they did more than offer prayers; they reached across that 6,000-mile divide.
“Our parishioners responded whole-heartedly to the pope’s appeal for action,” said Holy Trinity Pastor, Fr. Kevin Gillespie, SJ. “And when things looked bleak, no one gave up.” Filling out forms, tracking down housing, finding schools, and organizing donations were only some of the challenges. The Trump administration’s temporary travel ban put an indefinite hold on getting the family on a plane.
“The constant uncertainty is what I think affected everyone most,” explained Kate Tromble, Holy Trinity’s pastoral associate for social justice. “Their arrival hinged on so many factors; it was emotionally exhausting at times.” When hope seemed to fade for a few days, waiting and wondering if the family’s exodus would ever happen, parishioners came together for a prayer vigil with Fr. Gillespie and Fr. Leo O’Donovan, SJ, of the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, praying that God would safely deliver this family into their care.
Their prayers were answered. Despite repeated delays, this bewildered family in crisis finally made their journey halfway around the world. After nearly 48 hours of travel, they arrived in Washington, D.C., in the dead of night, greeted by a host of Holy Trinity parishioners who had grown to love them so much already. “Finally having this family in our care was as much a gift for us as for them,” said Tromble. “We as a parish community truly learned from this experience what it’s like to be poor, afraid, and living on the margins.”
Receiving this Kurdish family at the airport was akin to a long-awaited homecoming, complete with gifts and tears of joy. And despite the hard language barrier, love needed no interpreters. It was clear to both sides that the bond shared here could only stem from unconditional love and acceptance.
Holy Trinity’s commitment to this family was far from over. “There are many phases to helping refugees like this,” Fr. Gillespie said. “Assistance goes far beyond just getting them here. We have to help sustain them for the future.” Indeed, the family needed to get set up in their new housing, learn the neighborhood, acclimate to our culture and standards, start school and language classes, find work—and the list goes on.
Bumps in the road were expected and realized—from needing doctors for sudden medical conditions to finding a child lost in town—but progress continues to be made. The children are all in school with one making honor roll, and parishioners are helping the parents find gainful employment.
“We know they are grateful,” said Tromble. “And we ourselves are moved by the amazing tradition of hospitality with Syrian Kurds. Whenever we go to their home, even just to drop something off, they always insist we stay and spend some time with them. They are a very warm and loving family, which says a lot after all they’ve been through.”
Mike Gabriele is director of communications for the Jesuits’ Maryland Province.