‘A lot more alike than we think we are’

Children resettled through Catholic Social Services’ Refugee Resettlement Program and St. Ignatius Parish children take part in the parish’s “Walk the Walk” program on June 26. (Rob Herbst/The Catholic Week)

Children of CSS Refugee Resettlement Program join St. Ignatius kids for day of fun, bonding

Reprinted from The Catholic Week

MOBILE — The children’s backgrounds may have been dissimilar, but they shared plenty in common.

St. Ignatius Parish welcomed 21 children of families who have been resettled in Mobile through Catholic Social Services’ Refugee Resettlement Program on June 26. The children joined St. Ignatius kids in grades five through seven for a morning of fun activities and games.

“It helps to build that understanding that we’re a lot more alike than we think we are,” said Joseph Bayer, CSS Refugee Resettlement Program Manager and state refugee coordinator. “They can all play soccer together, they can all play Cornhole together. The kids do the same things and sing the same songs.”

The morning was part of St. Ignatius’ weeklong “Walk the Walk” program for children, which focuses on different Corporal Works of Mercy each day, such as “Welcome the Stranger.”

All played soccer and volleyball, plus bonded over video games and crafts.

“There are some things that are universal, like we all cheer for soccer” said Caroline McDonald, director of Family Life at St. Ignatius. “And they realize that they’re all the same.”

According to Bayer, most of the resettled children who took part in St. Ignatius’ camp day or their parents are originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but they have been in refugee camps in other African countries such as Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya before coming to the U.S.

All arrived in Mobile in the last three years, with the most recent camp participant arriving in May. All were between kindergarten age and 13 and most had a good grasp of English.

“The kids are incredible,” Bayer said.

“For our kids I think this is a welcoming thing. They’ve grown up in a refugee camp their whole life and now they’re here and somewhere they can call home. They can come and meet kids in their new home and become friends and form relationships.”

CSS, which is affiliated with the USCCB Migration and Refugee Services, is the only provider of refugee services in Alabama.

Once families are screened and vetted by the U.S. Department of State and arrive here, CSS supports them from the ground up such as helping to find a place to live, employment and food, enrolling children in school and scheduling necessary medical visits, plus helping them obtain Social Security cards and driver’s licenses.

“The initial 90 days are very involved and very intense. The State Department expects them to be self-sufficient in 90 days,” Bayer said. “Then we’re obligated to serve them up to five years. After five years they can apply for naturalization. We’ll assist them through that period, with hopefully the end goal in becoming citizens.”