Welcome to Our Family: Syrian Refugees Find Mercy in Northeastern Pennsylvania
June 24, 2016
By Christine Somers, Mercy Associate and Director of Campus Ministry at Misericordia University
During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Mercy has been made real in the lives of a Syrian refugee family that came to our community in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
It started when one of the students from our Critical Concerns Committee at Misericordia University heard about the plight of refugees on television and asked to start a collection on campus. We then learned that there was a local refugee family right in our community. We sent our students to deliver some canned goods, clothing donation and toiletries. What was about to happen next was totally unexpected.
As the semester was coming to a close, we had more donations. I decided to ask the other campus minister to join me for a visit with the family while dropping off more donations. I wrote the Mandou family a letter in Arabic (via Google Translate, not knowing there are different forms of Arabic), letting them know who we were and where we were from. A man, Mohamed, answered our knock on the door, and after showing him the van full of supplies, he said, “Welcome” and invited us into his house in his broken English. From there the friendship started, as a group of us have become their extended family and have helped the Mandou family adjust to U.S. culture over the last six months. Our initial encounter with Mohamad and his five children now has become a community effort in helping to sustain and support the family. This has become a real witness to me of what “church” really means.
They have welcomed us into their home many times; we have shared meals together and drank coffee or tea together. We have heard stories and saw picture of the plights of the refugees in Syria and have listened to the family’s own stories and struggles coming here to America. It does take a village to raise a family. I was even able to reach out the Misericordia University community and have the family’s broken clothes dryer looked at by one of our maintenance men. Then two of our facilities staff picked up a donated washer for them and had it installed. I networked with two local Catholic parishes that raised funds and donated money to the family to help pay rent and bills for three months. More community folks got involved buying bus passes, gift cards for the family and even brand-new bikes for the kids. One of the local prayer groups sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy even donated $360 to help the family. Other donors helped the family get a minivan.
As Catholics we are called to stand with the poor, the immigrant, the stranger, the refugee and the oppressed. As Pope Francis has modeled for us by bringing refugees back to the Vatican, these people are our brothers and sisters. As citizens of a global world we have a responsibility to care for one another. It is especially important during this Year of Mercy that we live out the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy in practical ways, every day. The Mandou family has enabled me to be the face of Mercy for them. In turn, I have invited others to join me in caring for this family, extending this circle of Mercy. It has been both a blessing and a privilege to journey with these refugees.
All photos courtesy of Aimee Dilger/Times Leader. Read more about the Mandou family.