BUILDING BRIDGES – with NEW NEIGHBORS
For most of us, November 2nd is “All Souls Day,” but for many of our neighbors to the south, it is “The Day of the Dead.” Just over a week ago, two of the four RJM’s who are tutoring newly arrived refugees from Guatemala learned something of the meaning of this day for our new neighbors.
Srs. Janice Farnham and Rosemary Mangan, arriving for their weekly lesson where members of an extended family were gathered, found a portrait of the family’s recently deceased patriarch displayed in the living room. Knowing something of the custom on this day, the two RJM’s had brought a contribution of flowers and small vigil lights.
Lesson plans were quickly abandoned as they moved to the ‘classroom” (dining room table) and said: “Class will be practice in conversation. Tell us how you celebrate this day in your country.” Immediately, cell phones were pulled out, with everyone showing photos of beautifully decorated graves (“mi madre,” “mi tio”), special food that is brought to be eaten at the cemetery, and immense, colorful kites that are flown over the graves. Clearly, the day is less a ritual of mourning than a celebration of the lives that were once shared with those now resting in the graveyard.
However, there was evident grief as family members spoke of “Arnoldo, Sr.”, who died of Covid during their journey from Guatemala to the USA. One could also feel the undercurrent of sadness at missing the rituals and customs that are part of this day in their native land.
RJM’s linked up with these families through NNIA (New Neighbors Interfaith Alliance), a coalition of faith communities (Christians, Jews and Muslims) committed to helping newcomers find security and stability in the USA. While the Washington, DC metropolitan area has many immigrants from Latin America, the current challenge is welcoming the Afghan families now being released from the military bases where they have been temporarily housed.
The State of Maryland has committed to receiving over 4,000 of these new immigrants. The refugee agencies authorized by the US Government to oversee resettlement have been financially gutted by the previous administration, and volunteer organizations have been asked to provide much more help than previously. NNIA has been working to raise funds and recruit volunteers to help settle these new neighbors, many of whom are fleeing violence and persecution because of their connections with Americans during the 20-year war.
– Sr. Rosemary Mangan, RJM
“We, as a province, commit to the Vulnerable and Poor,…by giving support…to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
Commitment Statement, Province Assembly, 2021