Oakdale parish helping refugee family make Minnesota home

| May 1, 2017 | 0 Comments

Guardian Angels in Oakdale is working with Lutheran Social Services to support a Karen refugee family from Southeast Asia that arrived in the Twin Cities April 27.

Parishioners greeted the family in the airport and plan to help them in different aspects of their resettlement. The parish has agreed to support the family for their first 180 days in the United States, but its members hope the relationship continues much longer, said Suzanne Bernet, Guardian Angels’ justice and outreach coordinator.

The parish helped resettle Vietnamese refugees a few decades ago, and over the last year, several parishioners expressed interest in doing it again, she said.

“With the political situation being what it is, we just decided that it was really good for our parish to act out in a positive way. So this positive way was to try to model Pope Francis’ personal example of taking those refugees into the Vatican,” she said.

Although Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis works with refugee resettlement locally, Guardian Angels’ expectations of having regular, direct contact with the refugee family were better suited to Lutheran Social Services’ model, Bernet said. In January, parishioners donated more than $5,000 to begin the process.

The family includes a married couple and their six children, ages 9-19; the youngest are twin boys. They were originally from Myanmar, also known as Burma, and lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for about 12 years. Per Lutheran Social Services’ policy, their names were not released to The Catholic Spirit.

At the airport they were reunited with their oldest daughter, who had previously resettled in the Twin Cities, and her family, including grandchildren they had never met before.

Guardian Angels parishioners welcomed them with a sign in their language, a flag from their homeland and sweatshirts in case they were cold. The family didn’t speak much English, but Bernet said the gratitude was evident.

“The mom of the family did know ‘thank you,’ and I could tell she practiced it, because she looked at me directly and said very intentionally, ‘Thank you,’” she said.

Lutheran Social Services will find the family housing, but Guardian Angels will provide financial support as the family adjusts to life in Minnesota. Among parishioners’ tasks will be furnishing the family’s apartment with help from the Twin Cities nonprofit furniture bank Bridging. Once the family is settled, parishioners will also help them access neighborhood and community resources such as education and tutoring.

For Guardian Angels parishioners, getting to know the family members is central to the outreach.

“One thing that this parish has a long history of is understanding that relationship is really at the heart of justice,” Bernet said. “Really the only time we make impacts and change in the world is when people change first, and the only way we really do that is by getting to know people.”

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Category: Local News