Bishop Kopacz participates in Share the Journey campaign

By Dennis Sadowski and Maureen Smith
JACKSON – A prayer here, a share on social media there, a voice of support in a letter to the editor, even a get-to-know-others potluck.
Supporting refugees and migrants can take many forms, and Pope Francis is hoping Catholics around the world will act over the next two years to encounter people on the move.
In the U.S., the church’s leading organizations have developed a series of activities, including prayers that families, parishes, schools and individuals can undertake during the Share the Journey campaign.
Share the Journey is an initiative of Caritas Internationalis, the global network of Catholic charitable agencies. It is meant to urge Catholics to understand and get to know refugees and migrants who have fled poverty, hunger, violence, persecution and the effects of climate change in their homeland.
U.S. partners in the effort are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Migration and Refugee Services, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA.
Much of the effort will be focused on sharing stories about migrants and refugees, the struggles they face and why they chose to seek a better life elsewhere, said Kristin Witte, coordinator of domestic Catholic educational engagement at CRS, which is the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency.
“The hope is that through the stories that are presented, the images presented, that people will be moved from their place of comfort to a place of encounter. That’s what the church is calling us to. That’s what the pope is calling us to,” she said.
The coalition of Catholic organizations has developed a toolkit in English and Spanish that includes prayers, suggestions for activities for families, prayer groups, classrooms and clergy, and utilizing social media with references to #sharejourney.
One of the suggestions in the toolkit is for bishops to meet with refugees living in their dioceses. Bishop Joseph Kopacz took up the challenge, hosting a meet and greet with Edgar Lopez and Mariamparo Arias de Lopez in the Catholic Charites office near downtown Jackson on Wednesday, Oct. 20.
The Lopez family fled their native Venezuela two-and-a-half years ago. Edgar Lopez lost his job as a chemical engineer and he says political turmoil left him unable to get a new one for 12 years. The couple’s son was a baseball standout and had landed a scholarship to Belhaven University so they decided to come to Mississippi.
“I always felt that God was leading my journey to this country. After all we lived through in our country and when we came here we would always pray, ‘OK God, it’s in your hands, show us the way, and help us to find the better person who can help us,’ because we want to stay legally in this country,” said Mariamparo. That person ended up being former Mississippi Católico editor Elsa Baughman, who urged the couple to seek help from Catholic Charities’ Migrant Resource Center.
With help from attorney Amelia McGowan, they have received work permits and both have found jobs at different restaurants. They are waiting on approval of their political asylum. Bishop Kopacz commented on how hard they have worked to assimilate into the culture in America – working to learn the language and fit into their new home. Both say working in restaurants has helped them get over their fears of speaking English.
“We want to learn everything, we want to get involved in the culture and the community and we want to give back too,” said Edgar. He said the staff at the Migrant Resource Center has become family.
“It was an act of faith that brought us here. Because we are not young. But you have to make a decision to leave everything behind. We left our property, we left our family, we left our friends,” he added. The couple has two grown children. One still lives in Venezuela where she works as a translator.
Despite their struggles, the pair credit their faith and help from their new ‘family’ at Catholic Charities with their success. “Here, we have security, stability and freedom that we don’t have in our country, but the most important thing I have now is my new rela

Edgar Lopez and Mariamparo Arias de Lopez meet with Bishop Joseph Kopacz in the Catholic Charities. The family moved from their native Venezuela two years ago. (Photo by Maureen Smith)

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tionship with God, a more powerful one. I see God acting in my life and my son’s life and my daughter’s life,” said Mariamparo.
Mark Priceman, communications for the bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that about 22 million people are on the move around the world, making the Christian community’s awareness and response to their situation critical.