Virginia Parishioners Help Iraqi Refugees

Jocelyn Thomas Features

TRIANGLE, Va. —  A recently-relocated Iraqi family visited St. Francis of Assisi Church earlier this month for a reception after Mass as part of the warm welcome the parishioners have offered the refugee family.

For several months, the friars, staff and parishioners of the Triangle parish have been providing a variety of services to the Al-Saadi family who moved to the United States from their native country after travelling through Syria and Jordan. The parish adopted the family in June.

Helping Adopted Family Settle
The connection between the family and the parish was established by Anne Tunney, the parish’s outreach director, who made the initial contact with Diocesan Migration and Refugee Services (MRS)  after working with MRS on a Lenten Program, “Welcoming the Stranger,” with Robert Menard, OFM,” she said. “They called me when housing was found for this family in Triangle,” Tunney said.

Many details are involved with setting up home in a foreign country, according to Tunney.

In addition to the basic set-up of a home for a family of 10, there is a need for food, clothing, transportation, English lessons, doctor’s appointments, employment, and many other things, she said. “At the same time, we must help them work through the maze of SSNs, DMV, the county school system, immunizations, food stamps, Medicaid cards, ESL, the bus system.  We’re showing them basic life skills including which soap goes into the dishwasher.”

The family is very motivated, and very grateful to be safe and free despite all the hurdles ahead of them, Tunney said.

At the request of the family, the Al-Saadis attended Mass at the parish on August 3 and were greeted by many parishioners at a coffee reception after Mass. They comment often on the warmth and generosity of Americans, said Tunney.

“Much work remains but we have made great strides in the last two months,” Tunney said.  “Our local Knights of Columbus group has worked with Abbas, Islam and Ibraheem, who are ages 28, 22 and 21 years old respectively,  to clean up their yard and storage area.  Four donated bikes are their only transportation at this time although a donated car awaits the first family member to get their license.”

Charley Miller, OFM, pastor, spent a very long morning at Department of Motor Vehicles to make that happen, she said.  He registered a donated vehicle for the family to use once insurance has been obtained.

Last week, Tunney was at the family’s home when Noora, age 20, received her letter of acceptance from a local community college.  Since she had been waiting two years to begin higher education, she was extremely happy.  When she fled her country, the young woman was about to begin college.

“She was still smiling when I left the house,” Tunney said, with joy in her voice. “This family will succeed. We are honored to be part of their journey.”

Publicity in Diocese
An article about the family appeared in the July 24 Catholic Herald, the publication of the Diocese of Arlington, Va. It is titled “Escaping horrors of war for a new life.”

In it, 27-year-old Rana Al Saadi, who arranged for the family’s relocation, said “people from the church are so kind.  They want to be there for us. Everyone is excited to start again, and to be here.”

Of her siblings, she said, “they enjoy every moment.”  In Baghdad, Rana worked as a translator at the U.S. Embassy.

The new Triangle family consists of several generations: a grandmother, seven children, one son-in-law, and a three-year-old grandson.

Among the many volunteers who have assisted the family are parishioners Greg and May Hayden who helped prepare the young people for school.

“This project has been a huge undertaking but very rewarding,” said Tunney.  “The generosity of our parishioners continues to astound me.”

Tunney, a member of the Province’s JPIC directorate, attended the United States Global Leadership Campaign and Conference (USGLC) in Washington, D.C., last month.

The USGLC is a broad-based bipartisan coalition of over 400 corporations and NGOs joined together with community leaders in support of an increase to the country’s  international aid budget, said Tunney. Because of her memberships on the Diocese of Arlington’s CRS (Catholic Relief Services) and CCHD (Catholic Campaign for Human Development), she was invited to attend.

At the July 14 -15 event, Tunney was frequently asked to speak about the experience of working with “our large Iraqi family that St. Francis is sponsoring, she said, “a wonderful reminder of how powerful the words of people of faith can be.”

The parish is an example of people thinking globally and acting locally, as the expression goes.

Iraqi_2John Heffernan, OFM
, said, “Because our parish has been well aware of how few Iraqi refugees have been settled in the U.S., the parish community has responded with great enthusiasm in welcoming this extended family. Given that the majority of the parish is military and retired military, I recognize their particular understanding and compassion in the family’s situation. It was interesting as well to meet them and recognize the Western spirit of the younger members of the family and their desire to settle and mix with local cohorts.”

The photo above shows parishioners Marge and Roland Arrington with members of the Iraqi famiy before going to the Prince William County Health Clinic in Manhassas, Va., last week

—  Jocelyn Thomas is Director of Communications for Holy Name Province.