Assisi Community Commits to Serving as Sanctuary

HNP Communications Franciscan World

Assisi Community in Washington, D.C.

A peace pole stands outside the building that houses the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Rhett Engelking)

WASHINGTON — A group of Franciscan-hearted people living in the nation’s capital announced last week that it would serve as a sanctuary for those who seek protection and safety.

The Assisi Community, a residence comprising two houses and 10 to 15 people, depending on the year, includes residents of various backgrounds. In the 30 years since its founding, the Assisi Community, located in the inner-city of Washington, D.C., has followed two foundational principles: simple lifestyle and work for social justice. Among its members are Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, Sr. Dianna Ortiz, OSU, of the Center of Concern, and Joseph Nangle OFM, of Holy Name Province.

“As the current government administration continues its attacks on immigrants to the U.S., it became clear that the community should join the growing sanctuary movement in this country,” said Joe. “The statement reflects several weeks of careful discernment on this subject.”

“By coincidence,” he added, “we are welcoming to our residence an immigrant family that happens to be Muslim this month. We’ll host a mother, father and three children.”

The statement was prepared for general distribution, said Joe, who works at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Arlington, Va., and is included below.

The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus, 19:34)

… There was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

From the earliest days of our faith tradition, believers have been taught to reach out to and provide care for three groups of people who were recognized as being in particular need: the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in our midst. This thread is woven through the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, with Jesus himself among the sojourners with nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8:20).

Assisi Community has sought to fulfill the Biblical injunction to welcome the stranger in our land, recognizing the humanity of the individuals and families who have knocked at our door over the past 30 years. As our mission statement expresses, we are “a sanctuary for refugees at risk, welcoming them as equals into the community, not as a gift but as their right…”

Our commitment to do so has been strengthened as the threat against various groups of people, particularly immigrants and Muslims but others as well, has become increasingly visible during and since the past year’s presidential campaign. We believe we have a moral responsibility to address the root causes of injustice and oppression and we refuse to be silent when the lives and well-being of so many of our sisters and brothers are in jeopardy.

The United States prides itself on being a country of immigrants. The reality is that immigrants have never been welcomed unconditionally. Despite the stirring words on the Statue of Liberty, the lamp beside the golden door has often burned dimly. Immigrant groups have typically faced prejudice and discrimination in their early years in this country.

What sets this moment in time apart is the coarsening of our public debate, the scapegoating of specific groups, and the all-too-real threats to deport those whose immigration status is in question. Further, the call for a registry for Muslims flies in the face of our country’s guarantee of religious liberty and our belief that each one of us is made in the image of God.

We pledge to stand against this history and the disturbing current trends, to hold our country to that promise of welcoming those who yearn to breathe free.

We recognize that those in need will be welcomed only if we welcome them, if we take it upon ourselves to open our home when asked. We know that we are not alone in this. Many people of good will who are not Muslims, including ourselves, have committed to registering as Muslims in the event that such a registry is established. Others have already provided shelter to those in need. As a community and as individuals, we have long accompanied those who are oppressed, those whose lives are lived at the margins. At this time when so many among us are vulnerable, we declare our home a space of protection, and we commit ourselves to acts of resistance which will confront and unmask bigotry wherever it may seek to assert itself.

With this statement, we confirm our commitment as people of faith to accompany those who are threatened in this climate of bigotry, scapegoating and persecution, and to be a sanctuary for all who are seeking protection and safety.

— The Assisi Community, Washington, D.C., Jan. 9, 2017

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