Interfaith services pray for refugees, announce their strength, courage


Washington – On June 20, communities around the world celebrated World Refugee Day, established by the United Nations as an international day to recognize the strength and courage of people forced to flee their countries of origin due to conflict or persecution. .

Yet the commemoration of World Refugee Day is reaching an all-time high for refugee resettlement.

Despite the long tradition of welcoming refugees to the United States, widely supported by faith-based organizations such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for Migration and Refugee Services, the number of refugees resettled in the United States was at its lowest in 2020 since the resettlement program was founded in 1980.

At the same time, the past year has marked a record number of forcibly displaced people around the world.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are currently 26 million refugees who have been forcibly displaced because of “a well-founded fear of persecution on the grounds of race, religion, nationality or belonging to a particular social group or political opinion “.

In response to the current climate for refugees, World Refugee Day interfaith prayer services have been organized across the United States by MRS, in collaboration with the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors and Princeton University Religion and Resettlement Project, to publicly pray for the well-being of refugees in the United States, across religious and political boundaries.

According to Todd Scribner of MRS, one of the main organizers of the event, part of the purpose of these nationally coordinated services was to pray with and for refugees as a way to rebuild relationships with these communities, and to highlight “the religious traditions out of which many of these communities have emerged and adopted. “

In a statement on World Refugee Day, Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, chairman of the United States Bishops Committee on Migration, said: “We know it will take time for our country to bring the refugee program back to historical standards that have come to be expected in its efforts to assist refugees. However, my brother bishops and I remain committed to those who live each day seeking freedom from violence, poverty and persecution.

Dorsonville continued, “As Catholics we remember that many in our own community came as strangers. We should never forget this experience, nor the challenges of integration, which the church is particularly fond of. qualified to relieve. “

Interfaith prayer services for World Refugee Day were held in Cleveland; Cincinnati; New Orleans; Milwaukee; Saint Louis; New York City; Chicago; New Brunswick, New Jersey; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Albany, New York.

Each service was organized by a local network, coalition or resettlement site and included prayers offered from the diversity of religious traditions present in each local context.

The service in New York City included prayers from Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, and Catholic religious traditions.

Tom Dobbins, director of justice and peace for Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New York and coordinator of the event, said the prayer service gave the Archdiocese the opportunity to “collaborate with interfaith partners with whom we have been in contact in the past and continue to work with today. “

“Often in the Bible it says to welcome the stranger because you yourself were a stranger in Egypt,” Dobbins said. “What a really important thing to do, pray as people of faith from many different traditions to come together and pray with other people of faith that the providence of God will help our brothers and sisters and neighbors in need. . “

Boukary Ouedraogo, a refugee from Burkina Faso, was invited to share his story during the prayer service in New York. After Ouedraogo and his wife were granted asylum in the United States in 2006, they enrolled in the Catholic Charities Community Services system, where they were able to receive financial assistance and employment.

“The help we received at CCCS was essential for our survival as we began our journey to this country,” Ouedraogo said.

Now, 15 years later, Ouedraogo is back at New York Catholic Charities as the Economic Empowerment Supervisor in its refugee resettlement department. In his current role, he ensures that refugees and asylum seekers receive education and employment preparation towards the ultimate goal of financial independence.

Although Ouedraogo identifies as a Muslim, he said that as a client of Catholic Charities Community Services himself, it was important for him to be able to share his story and help the refugees live a new life in the city. dignity.

“What a blessing to have the opportunity to serve an immigrant population made up of people who are in the same situation as me years ago! I feel very blessed and honored to be part of this interfaith prayer service as part of of the world Celebrating Refugee Day, ”Ouedraogo said.

In Milwaukee, the World Refugee Day event focused on celebrating the art and traditions of refugees and the challenges they face.

Through a joint effort of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Office of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the Lynden Sculpture Garden, the interfaith prayers were accompanied by a bilingual reading by Claudia Orjulea; a workshop on carving a personal symbol with artist Daniel Minter; and a conversation with the interdisciplinary poet Moheb Soliman.

The online component of the event included music by Hamid Ullah, a Rohingya musician and refugee from Buthidaung, Myanmar.

Stanley Cung, pastor of Emmanuel Chin Baptist Church in Milwaukee, a member of Myanmar’s Chin ethnic minority, offered one of the Christian prayers during the interfaith prayer service.

Before the prayer, Cung shared his personal thoughts: “Our country [Myanmar] has been under the government’s military dictatorship for so long and discrimination against minority groups and religions has taken place until now. … But today I would like to encourage people who have suffered from violence and discrimination around the world. Let’s not give up hope. We have hope. “

Dean Matthew Weiner of the Religious Life Office at Princeton University, one of the spearheads of the event, explained that by setting up these services, the hope is that the network of refugees and religious groups in local communities be strengthened in the future.

“Interfaith prayer is an important symbolic gesture for a particular cause or unit on an issue,” Weiner said, “but it also results in planning and monitoring in a way that naturally benefits civil society, creating new networks and deepening existing ones “.

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