‘We promised to help them’: One congregation’s struggle to bring a Syrian family to America

‘We promised to help them’: One congregation’s struggle to bring a Syrian family to America

On the night when the nearly 200 volunteers from the Holy Trinity Catholic Church should have been greeting their family of refugees at the airport, they were at a candlelight vigil instead, praying for the two parents and their six young children, whose flight to a new life had been canceled by a presidential executive order.

The next day, when the volunteers had planned to settle the displaced Syrians into a home filled with furniture they’d collected over months of scrounging, and offering food they’d cooked that would be familiar and comforting, they were walking the halls of Congress instead, pleading their case to anyone in the House or Senate who would listen.

And in the coming days, instead of enrolling the children in school, and helping the father find work, and explaining how to navigate the bus system, enroll in English lessons and find a local mosque, they will be following statements by federal lawyers and judges and White House officials, hoping the legal door stays open long enough for them to get the strangers they all call “our family” onto another plane.

Despite all the talk of refugees since the Trump administration order freezing entry from seven predominantly Muslim countries, little attention has been paid to the Americans who are waiting to welcome them. By law, no refugee can be admitted to the United States without a volunteer organization to sponsor them and nurture them toward self-sufficiency.

At Holy Trinity, a Jesuit parish in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, that group is more than ready, like adoptive parents pacing outside the fully stocked nursery for the child they have never met but already love.

“These are our people, they are our family,” they repeated over and over from one congressional office to the next this week, as well as to each other, almost like a prayer. “We made a promise to help them. Help us keep that promise.”