Last evening I attended a lively interfaith forum on “Welcoming the Stranger: Refugees and Immigrants in Our Midst” sponsored by the American Turkish Friendship Association and the Rumi Foundation. Moderator Sandy Chisholm, director of the Fairfax County Community Interfaith Coordination Program, reminded us that according to US Census Bureau statistics about one in four households in the DC area are recent immigrants, which is much higher than the national average.
The three panelists represented the Abrahamic faith traditions. Representing the Jewish faith, Rabbi Gerry Serotta, Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, began by stressing how central welcoming the stranger is to Judaism and all three Abrahamic religions. This is rooted in Abraham and Sara’s experience of living as sojourners and strangers in the land of Canaan as well as the experience of the Israelites of being slaves in the land of Egypt. We can never forget that our religious ancestors were refugees.
Patricia Maloof, Program Director of Migration and Refugee Services for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, representing the Christian tradition, built on this by emphasizing that the child Jesus and his parents Mary and Joseph were refugees. Furthermore, there is the clear teaching that we see Jesus and serve him when we welcome and serve the stranger in our midst. Representing Islam, Naseem Rizvi, from the Open Society Foundation, added the experience of the early Muslim community living as refugees in Medina.
The current situation of millions of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war and other conflict areas in the Middle East animated the forum and the discussion following the panel presentations. Given that welcoming strangers is so central to all our religious traditions, why are we refusing to allow Syrian refugees to enter our country? We will want to advocate for greater openness and to match our words with action by showing that our faith communities are prepared to collaborate in sponsoring and helping to resettle refugee families.
Those of us who want to put our faith into action will want to attend the Community and Interfaith session “Refugee Settlement in Northern Virginia – How Faith Communities Can Help” on Wednesday, March 9, 1:30 – 3:30 pm at the Fairfax County Government Center, 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035. You can register at: www.fairfaxcounty.gov/hscode/ereg/registration.aspx?groupid=26