In August 2016, a family of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo was legally resettled in St. Petersburg and they soon registered in our parish. After escaping the Congo, where there has been a civil war, they lived in a refugee camp for several years before being vetted and allowed to come to the US. The family includes a mother, father and five children ages newborn to 8. They are practicing Catholics, attend Mass at our parish each weekend, and all of the children are baptized except the newborn infant.
Since then, two more families of Catholic refugees have been settled in the same apartment complex. Many more refugees, about 70 in all, of many different faiths, are also living in the same area. The outreach efforts at Saint Mary Our Lady of Grace have become an interfaith ministry of mercy and justice! We partner with Daystar Life Center to provide for immediate needs and to help our friends work toward self-sufficiency.
Although they have received some services through the State Department, Daystar, and their assigned resettlement agency (Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services - GCJFCS - is coordinating their case), the families have many needs. A typical family has to pay rent of about $800 per month, utilities, food and transportation. Most do not have a car, but rely on the bus and bicycles. In the past several months, over ten parishioners, young and old, have offered hands-on assistance to the refugees. This has included providing transportation, fundraising for special needs, assistance with doctor appointments, translation, welcome kits, tutoring, assistance navigating social services such as DCF for food stamps, and much more. One of our parishioners even assisted at the labor and delivery of the newest baby!
For our service to these refugees, Saint Mary's has received two recognition awards from GCJFCS: The Human Spirit Award and the Community Partner Appreciation Award. As a community partner, we offer assitance in line with our beliefs in the dignity of every human person, and in the spirit of solidarity.
The refugee families are overjoyed to receive our friendship and assistance. God is truly taking care of them through the generosity of our community. Please be sure to welcome them if you see them at the 11:00 Mass.
What Can You Do?
Saint Mary's parishioners are pooling their time, talent and treasure to help. Needs fluctuate weekly, and families come and go. If you are able to help or just need more information, please contact the Director of Faith Formation at 727-896-2191, extension 207. Cash and gift card donations are also gratefully accepted. We will give you an orientation and take you to meet our refugee friends, face to face, before you have to make a commitment.
Any adult who wishes to help in our Refugee Outreach and have direct contact with this population through our church must be safe environment trained and pass a Level 2 background screening. Let us know if you would like to help!
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