The Church of St. Leonard of Port Maurice and the Church of the Holy Name share a priest, but are otherwise quite different Roman Catholic parishes in Minneapolis, with their own memberships, cultures, worship spaces, and histories. They had been actively looking for an initiative to share that would bring their communities together in a common work, and after a long process of exploration and planning, they decided to work together to co-sponsor a new family in their journey from refugees to Minnesotans. The result was an incredible bonding, not just with the refugee family, but between parishes as well.
Churches have been an integral part of welcoming refugees throughout America’s history, and that involvement has taken many different forms through the years. Similarly, MCC Refugee Services’ co-sponsorship model has evolved over decades to create a supportive and flexible model that allows for a variety of different expressions while still providing support to both churches and refugee families. Our staff was so uplifted by the process of watching Holy Name and St. Leonard’s make the co-sponsorship their own.
One of the co-sponsor team leaders, Patti Klucas, likened the experience of working together to that of creating a blended family: “This process of working together as one group from two communities has been a wonderful experience. I know I am not the only one who has expressed how good it has been to begin working closely together. I feel like I have made some good friends. I also knew going into this that we would have to learn to work together. This experience has been a lot like creating a blended family. We all know that families don’t always act perfectly toward each other but amid the struggles we stuck it out. It is a continual learning process. This is what families do.” As an organization, we have seen relationships deepen over and over again within co-sponsor teams, whether they are comprised of members from one church, multiple churches working together and even neighborhood groups.
Together, these parishes welcomed a multi-generational Karenni family from Burma. This family includes a married couple, their three daughters, and their maternal grandparents. The adult family members had all fled Burma in 1996 and had been displaced for 22 years before coming to Minnesota. Their daughters, aged 11, 9, and 7 were able to enroll in the very last part of the school year and are beginning to learn some English. Church members were able to help the family connect socially very quickly and planned fun outings like a fishing trip to Lake Phalen amidst the many appointments that occupy a new family’s time. Volunteers were also careful to spend time with the mother and grandmother, knowing that the men in the family were quite busy with job search activities and the girls were beginning school. When the church planned their closing celebration ice cream social, they found that they had the best sort of problem–both the father and grandfather were unable to attend because both had been scheduled to work!
We celebrate with these two parishes the many successes that this Karenni family has achieved in Minnesota and the ways in which their two parishes worked together. As Patti shared with the team in her concluding email, “Thank you all for being a part of this, even if for some it was just by following my emails. May we have many more adventures together as we seek to live as the Kingdom of God.”
New or returning co-sponsoring churches are needed, particularly for families arriving to St. Paul in the coming year. If you are interested in learning more, we encourage you to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-230-3219.
“I would like to ask all of you to see a ray of hope in the eyes and hearts of refugees…a hope that is expressed in the wish to participate in the host society…to be able to gradually resume a normal life…We can and must all nourish this hope.” – Pope Francis