Welcoming the Stranger

Pastoral Letter on Catholic Charities of Central Florida Refugee Resettlement Ministry

Gary Tester, executive director of Catholic Charities of Central Florida, has written this pastoral letter to assist God’s people in understanding the mission of the Refugee Resettlement ministry. The letter is also posted on the website of Catholic Charities of Central Florida (www.cflcc.org). It is, in part, a response to the many news reports and articles about the refugee crisis and the appropriate response.

My Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Every day there are people living in other countries, including Christians persecuted for their faith, who are being tortured and murdered, bombed and traumatized. An open field, a perilous journey, separation from family, a rickety boat, a refugee camp – are their only hope for safety. And for the most vulnerable, a relatively small number, who have no chance of ever being able to go home safely – starting life anew in a strange land is the only possibility other than death.

Before their arrival in the United States, refugees from war torn countries spend several years displaced or in a refugee camp. During that time, refugees undergo Department of Homeland Security background checks as well as medical examinations, which take years to complete. They are also screened by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and then interviewed for refugee eligibility by the U S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Approved families are provided security clearances and are assigned to local affiliates such as Catholic Charities of Central Florida for resettlement.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear Jesus teach about the way we are to live. Jesus says: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

At Catholic Charities, we are merciful to the refugees we serve. Jesus Christ himself fled for his life from the terror of King Herod. The refugees today flee to escape persecution, war and execution. When we welcome a stranger, we are welcoming the Son of God into our lives (Matthew 25:35).

This is why Catholic Charities of Central Florida has a ministry of Refugee Resettlement. Since 1975, we have helped newly arrived refugees from across the world – those who leave their countries because of persecution – begin a new life in Central Florida.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ urges us to care for the needs of people who are suffering and to pray for the victims of violence and the perpetrators of violence. As St. Paul said, “The love of Christ impels us,” (2 Cor 5:14). “May every Christian make these words his own, in the joyful experience of being a missionary of Love wherever Providence has placed him, with humility and courage, serving his neighbor with no ulterior motives and drawing strength from prayer for a cheerful and industrious charity.” (Benedict XVI, Angelus, October 1, 2006).

In Christ,

Gary Tester
Executive Director
Catholic Charities of Central Florida