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Catholic family
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A Family to Family
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placeholder May 5, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 9   •   Oakland, CA

Helping refugees fleeing political persecution who came to America in search of a better life is one of many programs offered by Catholic Charities of the East Bay. This English class from last August is one component of the refugee resettlement program which helps provide employment services to refugees who speak limited English, and CalWORKs clients seeking general assistance.
josÉ luis aguirre/The Catholic Voice

Catholic family flees to America to avoid persecution

The voice of God may have told the father to seek to get his three children out of Egypt, but it was the tiniest voice among them that moved the father to action.

 
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"The smallest told me a sentence I'll never forget," the father said. "Daddy, if we go to church, will they kill us?"

The journey of the family of five, whose name is not being used to protect them and family members left behind in Egypt, immigrated to the United States.

As Catholics in Egypt, their opportunities were dwindling. The free practice of their faith, which had been a major part of their lives, was in jeopardy. The family went to church; the children went to catechism. Both parents were involved in ministries of the church.

But the change of political power in Egypt, particularly after the revolution of June 30, altered their level of security.

"In reality, it's becoming harder to be Catholic because Muslim Brotherhood wants to control all the country," he said. "They were against anyone who hasn't their faith."

Violent actions, including the destruction by fire of about 20 churches, and stores owned by Christians, were becoming more common.

"It made us think of the future of our kids," he said.

They applied for the lottery for a visa to the United States in late 2011; they were granted an interview at the U.S. Embassy in May 2013, on the Feast of Santa Rita.

So, leaving behind a middle-class life — the father is a longtime French teacher and the mother worked in human development organizations — they took their three children, one in middle school, one in elementary school and one is preschool, on a journey to the Bay Area last September.

After 17 days at a hotel in Hayward, the family moved into an apartment in Castro Valley.

It was there that they were visited by Father Terence O'Malley of Transfiguration Parish.

"Father O'Malley visited us and prayed with us," he said. "We spoke with him many times. He gave us financial aid, especially when I didn't have a job."

St. Vincent de Paul provided assistance. Father O'Malley called Catholic Charities of the East Bay.

The two older children began school, where they are thriving. The father found work in security. The mother began taking English classes and cared for the youngest child at home.

He worked at a school for boys for eight years, and a girls school after that, until leaving the country. He also tutored French, including university students preparing for language and literature examinations.

In addition to her work for human development organizations, she taught at a technical school for troubled boys. "She worked with them successfully," he said.

"My first and last hope for here," he said, "is to teach. I find teaching is a great mission. I have two goals in my life: The first being a French teacher. The second is marrying my wife. Now my goal is to be a teacher here. I hope to achieve this."

Among the family's current needs is a computer, to assist the father in applying for jobs, and the mother in learning English.

Catholic Charities helped Transfiguration Parish start a Family to Family program. Through this program, parishes are matched with a family in need of assistance.

Carolyn Krantz of Catholic Charities made a presentation at the church. Patti Crotti, a recently retired school administrator, heard the talk. "As I listened to her, I knew I wanted to be part of that."

"I wanted to give back," she said. "I really wanted to be part of a ministry."

"What I liked about the program is that it is about working with the family, working with them to develop friendship, trusting relationships and to mentor and network," she said. "They're struggling right now, but that isn't to say that they have to be struggling forever.

"They are very good people, good Catholics. They also have tremendous expertise and knowledge," she said. "I see them as increasing their opportunities."

Family to Family helps locate resources and network. "We're learning as we go along," Crotti said of the new ministry in her parish.

"Getting to know this family has really helped me to appreciate my family more," Crotti said. "It's also helped me to recognize people coming from a place that's very different from the United States and how lonely and isolating it can be."

Crotti said after going to church for years, "it's really made me feel I understand the Gospels, especially with Pope Francis and with our bishop when they talk about supporting the poor. It's taught me about ministry and to serve people who are struggling."

For the family, the ministry's presence in their lives was welcome. On the day the first Family to Family representatives visited, the family received two letters from Alameda County — one saying benefits were being cut, the other saying they were being denied.

The man who had brought his family from half a world away turned to God, the voice that had told him to come to the United States. "On the same day you send Family to Family to us to say, don't worry, we are with you," he said.

"I find this is God," he said. "God doesn't leave us alone."

Being on the receiving end of support is new for the family. There is hope the need will be temporary — most Family to Family relationships cover one to two years. With two well-educated adults, and the ability to teach, the family has great hope of returning to helping others, as they did in Egypt.

"We hope soon to be a member of the Family to Family team," he said.

 
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