On the day that the Syrian family that Holy Trinity Parish in Washington is sponsoring had been scheduled to arrive in the United States, students and teachers from the school gathered together for a prayer service and pilgrimage in honor of that family and other families in need.
“We gather to remind ourselves of the Gospel’s call to welcome the stranger and to treat all lives with dignity and respect by serving the most vulnerable of God’s people,” said Charlie Hennessy, the school’s principal, to open the Feb. 6 prayer service. “We join in solidarity with strangers in our community and in our world, and with all those who are oppressed.”
In support of the parish’s efforts to sponsor a family of six, the students in the school had been preparing for the family’s arrival. The fourth grade class made signs that translated common phrases from Arabic to English, in order to help with the transition, and the school’s Girl Scout Troop held a diaper drive.
These preparations, in addition to those of the parish, were put on hold because of President Trump’s executive order suspending the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days and banning the entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely.
During the school’s prayer service, Jesuit Father Kevin Gillespie, the parish’s pastor, connected the practice of walking and praying at the same time to the Israelites walking from Egypt to the Promised Land, and to Jesus walking with his family to Jerusalem. He said they are walking as “a community who cares” not only for the family whom they are preparing to welcome, but for many other families in the same circumstance as well.
Father Gillespie, Father Greg Schenden, and several students took turns reading lines from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Prayer for Migrants and Refugees,” asking Jesus to help them with His grace “to banish fear from our hearts, that we may embrace each of your children as our own brother and sister.”
Gail Griffith, a lifelong parishioner at Holy Trinity and campaign director of the Jesuit Refugee Services’ Global Education Initiative, spoke to the students, telling them how proud she was of what they were doing. She told the students that many refugee children their age do not have access to the same education that they do.
“Thank you so much for providing your voices and your feet and your energy and enthusiasm,” she said.
The students exited the church after singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” each holding handmade signs. Some of the signs read, “All are welcome,” “Somos una familia” (the Spanish translation of “we are one family”), “bring families back together,” and “Hopes and dreams welcome.” A few students started singing, “This Land is Your Land,” as they walked through the streets of Georgetown.
The pilgrimage ended on the campus of Georgetown University, where the students gathered in Healy Circle to sing “We are Called” and “God Bless America.”
The school hosts a similar walk every year for the homeless, and Hennessy said some students and teachers had the idea to have this walk for refugees, because “they are not only homeless; they are country-less.” Hennessy also said they are following the example of Pope Francis, who encouraged every parish to adopt a refugee family.
President Trump released the executive order that would prevent the Syrian family from entering the U.S. just three days after Kate Tromble, the parish’s pastoral associate for social justice, had found out the official travel date for the family they were sponsoring, which she said was devastating.
“We all cried,” Tromble said, as members of the parish staff looked at the stacks of packages of household supplies that people have donated to the family. They had been working for six months to prepare to welcome the family, and have gone through “a roller-coaster of emotions” as they follow the news of whether or not the family will make it to the United States, she added.
“We had a name and ages,” Tromble said. “We felt like they were ours; one of our family.”
Since a federal judge has temporarily blocked the executive order which would have prevented the family from traveling, they have rescheduled their flight and are now set to arrive next week.
“We are hoping nothing will change too radically and they will get here,” Tromble said.
That evening, the parish held an evening prayer service at the time that the Syrian family’s plane was scheduled to land. The goal of the prayer service is “to let people grieve; to let people pray,” said Tromble, and to let the family know, “through our prayers, we are here supporting them.”