Father Reid: Helping refugees is like helping Christ Himself
Editor's note: This is an ongoing series of articles showcasing how the faithful of the Diocese of Charlotte welcome and support refugees through Catholic Social Services' Refugee Resettlement Office, which has helped 10,705 refugees from 27 different nationalities since 1975. Read the first story on the Refugee Resettlement Office here and the second on working with refugees in Africa here.
CHARLOTTE — Father Timothy Reid has served as pastor of St. Ann Church for the past five years, but before he became a priest for the Diocese of Charlotte, he worked in Washington, D.C., helping to resettle refugees.
For several years Father Reid worked with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in its Office of Migration and Refugee Services in Washington, D.C. That office resettles about 30 percent of the refugees who arrive in the U.S. each year. The Catholic refugee resettlement network includes more than 100 diocesan offices across the country, including the Catholic Social Services Refugee Resettlement Office here in the Charlotte diocese.
In a recent conversation, Father Reid shared the following experiences and insights regarding his work in refugee resettlement:
Q: What did you do at the USCCB?
Father Reid: I served as a field support coordinator for USCCB/MRS. In this role I was responsible for overseeing a portion of the USCCB's network of refugee resettlement offices operated through various Catholic Charities and Catholic Social Services agencies. Ultimately, it was my responsibility to ensure that the local refugee offices were providing all the necessary services to refugees (such as adequate housing, food, medical care, cultural orientation and employment services) per the guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of State. I spent half of my time in the national office in Washington. The other half of my time was spent visiting the various local offices around the country (including our program here in Charlotte) to audit their programs and provide training and support.
Q: Did you have any other responsibilities in that capacity?
Father Reid: I was also responsible for helping Cubans and Haitians coming into the U.S., people seeking political asylum, as well as Chinese minors smuggled into the country, and victims of human trafficking.
Q: Chinese minors are smuggled into the U.S.?
Father Reid: Yes. Chinese families will contract with gangs who, for a large sum of money, will smuggle a child (usually a teenager) into the U.S. The teen then gets a job, begins to pay the sum back, and eventually seeks citizenship in the U.S. to bring over his/her family by legitimate means. Often these young people are caught at the U.S. border, at which point they are turned over to federal immigration officials, who often put them into detention. I oversaw the Catholic Charities programs that took these young people out of detention and put them into foster care or reconcile them with family members (if they had any family in the U.S.). As with the refugees, my job was to ensure that these young people were being provided proper services: housing, food, clothing, education, health care, etc.
Q: What work did you do in support of victims of human trafficking?
Father Reid: USCCB had just started working with victims of human trafficking during my last year there. Generally, our clients were young women and children who were brought into the U.S. through either the sex or drug trade. Some were "drug mules" who were brought to the U.S. to be prostitutes as well. These were very difficult and delicate clients. Not only did we have to provide the usual things that we would for refugees (food, housing, clothing, etc.), but we also had to provide a great deal of counseling, seek to reunite them with family in their country of origin, and in many cases, hide them from the gangs who had smuggled them in so that they could testify against them in court.
Q: What insights did you gain as a result of your experience working in refugee resettlement?
Father Reid: In my work with refugees, of course, I learned a great deal about other cultures. But I also learned about the importance of helping people maintain a sense of human dignity. We take so much for granted in this country, especially when it comes to material goods and the liberty to live our lives as we choose. Refugees often suffer all sorts of deprivations. But the worst deprivation of all is the loss of one's own dignity. And honestly, a kind smile, a willingness to listen and the courage to advocate for the needs of another is all it really takes to help restore that lost dignity. Doing refugee resettlement work certainly gave me a much greater appreciation for the sufferings of others, and it taught me that it's usually not that difficult to make a real difference in the lives of others...often just a bit of selflessness.
Q: What was one aspect of your work wherein you could see the importance of helping refugees regain a sense of dignity?
Father Reid: When I was assigned as a parochial vicar at St. Mark Church in Huntersville, we volunteered to sponsor a large extended family for resettlement. I got our youth group there involved, and the kids did most of the labor of collecting furniture and household goods, and preparing the house we had found for the family. I remember how excited the family was to move into this home, and how appreciative they were for the small things, the little details, that we provided. We had worked hard to make this house a home for them before they arrived so that they wouldn't need anything once they arrived. The family felt respected and welcomed. After all the indignities that come with fleeing home and living in a refugee camp for years, this family couldn't believe the generosity they were shown here by people they didn't even know. They felt human again.
Q: What was one unexpected aspect of your work with refugees?
Father Reid: Once I was in Brooklyn, N.Y., where I did a great deal of work, and as usual I was making visits to the homes of various refugee families to check on them and ensure that they had everything they needed. It was really my favorite part of the job because it gave me an opportunity not only to see how they were living, but also to talk with them and learn about their experiences as refugees and moving to the U.S. This particular Croatian family in Brooklyn with whom I was visiting not only welcomed me into their home, but they had an enormous meal prepared for me. I couldn't believe it! I ended up sitting with them in their kitchen for three hours (I almost missed my flight back to Washington!). What impressed me and touched me was that it was my job to provide for them, and yet despite the horrible things they had been through, they wanted to provide for me. They all hugged me and kissed me and thanked me so warmly at the end of our visit. Here it was my job to welcome and care for the stranger, and I was being welcomed and cared for. And that's just one story. I was very blessed to meet so many wonderful families like this over the years.
Q: In what ways do our Catholic teachings call upon us to "welcome the stranger?"
Father Reid: Our mandate to serve refugees and welcome the stranger comes from Matthew 25:31-46, where we find Christ explaining the judgment of all the nations. Jesus is very clear in this passage that we are called to serve the poor and needy and to welcome the stranger. And when we do these corporal works of mercy, we serve Christ Himself. But when we neglect to serve the poor, care for the needy or welcome the stranger, we neglect Christ Himself. Our Lord is clear that this choice to serve or not serve will have eternal ramifications.
What's important to remember about refugees is that they have been forced to flee their homelands because of circumstances such as war, political oppression or religious persecution. And every person, because of our inherent human dignity, should be welcomed by us Christians as if he or she were Christ. To fail to do this is a sin against the virtue of charity.
The virtue of charity is a supernatural virtue that flows from the nature of God and directs us toward a limitless love of God and neighbor. It is by nature selfless and sacrificial, and it desires the good of others. As Catholics we are called to practice this most important of virtues! Welcoming the stranger is a great way to serve others.
Q: What would you say to encourage others to support refugee resettlement?
Father Reid: Doing this type of work is certainly challenging, but very rewarding. If you would like a great way to grow in virtue, then volunteer to help refugees. Today volunteers are needed to drive refugees to cancer treatments, and to tutor children and mentor parents. Help in setting up housing for newly arrived refugees is always needed – donating or collecting donated furniture and household items. Volunteer information is available at www.cssnc.org. And as is always the case when serving the poor and needy, you will find Christ in the refugee!
— Tracy Winsor is a volunteer coordinator with Catholic Social Services.
How you can get involved
To schedule a presentation, request information regarding refugee apartment sponsorship or to volunteer with theRefugee Resettlement Office, call 704-370-3283. To learn more about Catholic Social Services, go online to www.cssnc.org.
FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy