Since April 2022 more than 45 buses have arrived in DC bringing thousands of refugees from the Texas-Arizona border, mostly men but also families with children and babies. Several community and/or religious centers in DC near Metro Station have agreed to offer themselves as places to give them a dignified welcome, a place where they can rest and clean up. This help is critical as they have arrived after a 30-hour journey.
St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Dupont Circle decided to go a step further when they saw the need of the arriving immigrants and gave them food, clothing and offered them a Eucharist service in Spanish. On days when the Welcome Ministry occurs, immigrants are served breakfast and given toiletries, while Mutual AID, a nonprofit, finds them tickets to their next destination where they have a friend or family member where they can start their lives. While they wait, some go to a place in the parish where donated clothing, sorted by gender and age, and personal hygiene items are available for them to take with them.
Additionally, since July, a Spanish-language service has been offered at the parish. In an open invitation to the refugees, they are invited to participate in the Holy Eucharist. It started with a lot of will and without many resources, a bilingual bulletin, spontaneous Hispanic singers and volunteer deacons. The service is an opportunity to thank God for having arrived alive and well. It is a moving experience because it is a time to remember those who did not make it through the jungle or river currents along the way. They also receive a blessing to continue the journey.
The reality of having newly arrived immigrants here in Washington, DC, mostly Spanish-speaking from Venezuela, is something that goes beyond what we hear in the news or read in books or even through family testimonies or in our churches. These travelers are starting from scratch–arriving in a new country where they don’t speak the language, don’t know the system and don’t know where to start. The diocesan Latino congregations formed by first and second generation immigrants soon decided they should have the opportunity to shake hands with their newly arrived brothers and sisters.
So in August, we started looking for volunteers, clothes in good condition, as well as some simple items such as bags or belts. We placed boxes in each church and organized to get these donations to St. Thomas.
The Latino congregations responded generously: in August, St. Stephen’s and Incarnation and the Mission of Good Shepherd participated by donating their time. In September, St. Matthew’s helped with donations and volunteers. Donations have also come from Ascension, Gaithersburg, St. Alban’s, Our Saviour, Hillandale and are scheduled to arrive on different dates in a plan that continues through November.
A percentage of people arrive without any contact or family in any part of the country. They are escorted to a private home for a few days or to a hotel or motel in DC or Maryland, where they can stay for a limited period of time. Mutual AID teams cannot fully address the needs of the people staying there without a plan for future action as that team focuses each day on the arrival of the next bus and the challenges of that group of refugees.
The task is great but we believe in the Christian duty to welcome the stranger.
Araceli Ma, Diocesan Latino Communications Assistant