The plight of refugees is personal to me.
My parents were refugees, tossed about on the sea of war and politics as the Japanese invasion of China in World War II forced them to flee to Hong Kong and then back to China, and getting married along the way. When China went communist after the war, it was back to Hong Kong.
My family knew what it was like to leave one life behind and try to start again. Because Hong Kong was going to revert to Chinese control in July 1997, the future of my generation seemed uncertain. We all worked very hard and looked for options so that we would not be refugees again.
I was not a refugee when I came to America, but I was an immigrant. I arrived at Purdue University in Indiana in 1972 with enough money for 1 year of school, with my accented English that had been taught to me by the Maryknoll Sisters and with a desire to take advantage of the opportunities opening up for women in the United States.
I was so far from home, from friends and family. There was no Skype in those days. International phone calls were a luxury. I felt so alone and did not have a sense of belonging. So much was foreign, so much unknown, the future so hard to see. On many nights that first semester, I cried myself to sleep.
So when I hear about people who have left their native land in far worse circumstances, I feel for them. And there are so many all over the world. Many times, they are fleeing violence, they are fleeing hunger, they are fleeing instability.
Sometimes they are looking—as I was—for a better life. Usually they would much rather find this life in their native land, but, for some reason, it is not available. So they find themselves in a strange land.
You know what I did at Purdue? I turned to the Church. The idea of a Universal Church became a reality for me. From my first day, I found a home at St. Thomas Aquinas Center—the Catholic Center at Purdue and the Catholic Newman Center on campus. I found people at St. Tom’s who took me under their wing, who treated me with understanding and hospitality. I was a regular there. I went to Mass every day.
Not only did I find a welcoming community at St. Tom’s and at the Newman Center, I even found my husband there.
Because of your support of CRS, you are helping refugees all over the world, whether they are from Iraq or Somalia, from Mali or Sudan, from Zimbabwe or Guatemala. We work to make sure they are fed and clothed and housed and treated with dignity and respect. We work to give them what I found at the Newman Center: compassionate assistance in a time of great need and stress.
World Refugee Day is June 20. And Father’s Day in the United States is June 17. These two go together in my mind. Think of the fathers who, down through the generations, have left the safety and security of their home in search of a better life in other lands, often sending money back for their families or preparing the way so their families could join them. Think of the fathers who have sent their families away from danger while staying behind to tend to the family’s property.
This month, we can join in solidarity with the world’s refugees, whether they are around the world or just around the block. We can try to understand their plight, their fears, their perilous journeys and treat them with compassion and respect.
We can give them exactly what I found when I went to the church at Purdue: a place where I felt welcome and at home, safe and nurtured, although I was so far from my native land.
It is something I will always be grateful for. It is a gift I try to pass along whenever I can. That’s why the plight of refugees is so personal to me. Please join me in extending to them a helping and compassionate hand.
May blessings overflow,
Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President and CEO
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