Bethany House residents celebrate graduation from the World Relief Job Readiness program.
Imagine you are 18 years old (again!)—and have spent fully half of your life searching for a safe and welcoming place to call home. That is Elizabeth’s reality. She fled her home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at nine years old with her family (Mom, Dad and younger brother and sister), seeking to escape a brutal civil war described as “the bloodiest war since World War II.” The family landed in a refugee camp in Angola.
It was evident, even to a child, that this new country did not welcome them. A year later Isabelle accompanied her father to Brazil where they hoped to establish a home and reunite the family. She went to work braiding hair to earn money. They lost contact with the family back in the refugee camp. Forced to uproot again, they made the treacherous journey north through eight different countries. Her father died crossing the Río Grande. Isabelle arrived in the U.S.—both alone and as one of thousands of unaccompanied children at our southern border.
"The humanitarian crisis of millions of immigrants throughout the world forced to flee violence and environmental destruction has led to a politics of fear and hatred in some instances, while it has also awakened creative compassionate responses."
Now she lives at Bethany House of Hospitality (BHH), a home established by women religious of Illinois to welcome immigrant women. BHH offers housing and support services to women 18-22 years old as they journey to independence. Since its founding two years ago, Bethany House of Hospitality has been a temporary home to more than 35 women and 4 children from Central America, Africa, and the Middle East. Their average length of stay has been 6 months as they learn English, study for the GED, and wend their way through the immigration court system. Almost all current residents have been victims of human trafficking.
The humanitarian crisis of millions of immigrants throughout the world forced to flee violence and environmental destruction has led to politics of fear and hatred in some instances, while it has also awakened creative compassionate responses. Pope Francis has made the plight of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy, calling for “bridges not walls.” Reminding us that immigrants are among “the least of these” brothers and sisters God calls us to love, this summer, on the 6th anniversary of his visit to Lampedusa, he said, “My thoughts go out to those ‘least ones’ who daily cry out to the Lord, asking to be freed from the evils that afflict them…. These least ones are abandoned and cheated into dying in the desert; these least ones are tortured, abused, and violated in detention camps; these least ones face the waves of an unforgiving sea; these least ones are left in reception camps too long for them to be called temporary…. They are only a small number “of the least ones who Jesus asks us to love and raise up.”
Since July, I’ve ministered as live-in weekend staff at Bethany House of Hospitality. Working with immigrants is not new to Springfield Dominicans, however. The Dominican Literacy Center in Aurora has offered ESL and citizenship classes for more than 25 years; the Dominican Literacy Center in Melrose Park opened shortly after. SDART, the Springfield Dominican Anti-Racism Team, has been working since 2005 to help the sisters and their sponsored institutions recognize and eliminate racism. Historically, the first six Dominican women arrived in Illinois in 1873 in response to a call to teach Irish immigrant children at a time when discrimination against Irish immigrants was common. Working with immigrants and against discrimination seems to be in the very DNA of Springfield Dominicans!
Sister Kathlyn lives in Springfield when not at her ministry in the Chicago suburbs.
We invite you to join us in this vital area of mission. Listen to (or read) the stories of immigrants to glimpse the brave, strong, and resilient people behind the rhetoric we too often hear in the news. Allow your heart to be moved with compassion…and RESPOND! Be grateful for all you have been given and find creative ways to share it: Become a tutor in a literacy center, volunteer at or support Bethany House of Hospitality, reach out to immigrants in your city and ask how you can support them, become an advocate for those seeking a safe and welcoming place to call home. Let the words of Jesus live in your heart: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
What you can do
Learn all you can about Catholic Social Teaching on immigration—share your knowledge with others.
- Become a tutor in a literacy Center
(Ours: https://dominicanliteracycenter.org, or someone else’s at www.lvillinois.org)
- Volunteer at a or support Bethany House of Hospitality
- Become an advocate for those seeking a safe and welcoming place to fall home. Resource: Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.