As part of the Church's mission to administer service to migrants in need, representatives of the Diocese of Buffalo will be hosting an informational refugee convocation from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, March 25 at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. The diocese has teamed with VOICE-Buffalo, a grassroots movement that works with government to enact social change in Erie County, in furthering this cause.
The event will include a keynote speaker, workshops to promote awareness of the various services the local Catholic Church offers to refugees and charity aspects of its ministry, and how to work toward social justice. It will also offer information on how to serve refugees at the parish level in accordance with Catholic teachings. Lunch will be provided, and the convocation will conclude with a prayer service.
"Bishop (Richard J.) Malone has written a letter about immigrants and refugees about two years ago, so that is a concern he has," said Father Paul Bossi, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Buffalo and a leader of the diocesan committee that collaborates with VOICE-Buffalo. "It's a day in which we're inviting all the Catholic parishes of the diocese to become more familiar with the Church's ministry to migrants, immigrants and refugees, and how parishes and parishioners can become more involved and aware."
According to Father Bossi, much the service the Church provides to refugees is done through Catholic Charities, so the convocation will include an informational session on various services it offers, including a center on Buffalo's West Side for this cause. There are also some other organizations, including Jericho Road and Journey's End, that serve the refugee population concentrated on the West Side.
"There is also collaboration between VOICE-Buffalo and Catholic Charities. There is a contract that has been in place between the two organizations for the past year and a half or two years. But this particular convocation is really flowing out of VOICE-Buffalo, along with the Catholic members, the Catholic pastors of VOICE-Buffalo and Catholic Charities, to make Catholic parishes and parishioners aware of the services that are being provided by the diocese and other agencies," Father Bossi said.
"Eventually, (we are) trying to get parishes to support the various needs of the refugee programs. There are programs for speaking English or helping people get their citizenship," he added. "The different sessions will talk about issues like social justice for refugees and what is happening now through VOICE-Buffalo. There is a committee for immigrants and refugees, and they are working with the people themselves."
Deacon Don Weigel, a global fellow for Catholic Relief Services and associate public policy coordinator at Catholic Charities of Buffalo, is also part of the team that is organizing the convocation, which includes parishioners of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Buffalo. "We are frankly excited about this great growth of refugees that we have had on the West Side of Buffalo, in particular, over the years," he said.
"It has revitalized the West Side. It has been wonderful for the refugees, as well as for the city, and we wanted to both celebrate that and let people around the rest of the diocese know, number one, that it is happening, and also partake if they want to, because I think there are enough people around who might be interested in helping the whole refugee process," added Deacon Weigel. "Our goals for that day are being able to provide information to people about what services are available for refugees."
According to Deacon Weigel, who has gone to Syria to serve refugees there, this remains an important facet of the social justice aspects of the Catholic Church's ministry, particularly since Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics around the world to care for them. Additionally, the Church hopes to look into practical solutions for how to encourage those in communities without refugees to still get involved. Even those who do not work with refugees may pray, learn about issues and serve as a voice for their plight.
"One of our founding bedrock principles, as Catholics, is respect for life and the dignity of the human person. So many things spring from that. The world is in a situation where we have the largest refugee crisis, perhaps of all time, the way that it continues to grow. Syria is a big part of it, but it's not just Syria. It's other places in the Middle East, from wars in nations in Africa, violence and crime in Latin America," said Deacon Weigel. "There are all kinds of things that are driving people to migrate to other countries."
For more information about VOICE-Buffalo and how to get involved, visit www.voice-buffalo.org.