Deacon Joseph Petrauskas Visits Syrian and Sudanese Refugees

Deacon Joseph Petrauskas, left, sits with a Sudanese refugee during a Livelihoods Service Project training curriculum during Deacon Petrauskas’ participation in a Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Immersion Trip to Egypt Jan. 8-16. (Photos courtesy of Deacon Petrauskas)

By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer

As a new Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Global Fellow, Deacon Joseph Petrauskas of St. Columbkill, Boyertown started the new year by participating in a CRS Immersion Trip to Egypt, the spirit of which dovetails with World Refugee Day 2018, to be observed Wednesday, June 20, and Pope Francis’ Share the Journey campaign.

“We were not in refugee camps,” Deacon Petrauskas said of the Jan. 8-16 journey to the Middle East.

“In Egypt, the Syrian and Sudanese refugees live within the city of Cairo, different than in some other countries,” said Deacon Petrauskas, who was one of the six deacons, two priests and two CRS staff members who made the trip.

“Our mission was to immerse ourselves into the programs being administered by CRS to the Syrian and Sudanese refugees,” Deacon Petrauskas said.

He said programs included education (kindergarten through grade eight), peace building among Christians and Muslims, and helping provide business and legal training and capital grants to start local businesses for the refugee community.

“Our purpose was to observe and then be the voice for those who do not have a voice in our own parishes and dioceses back home.”

“I became a CRS Global Fellow in October 2016, a year after a 10-day mission trip to the Dominican Republic with my wife, Patty, and several others from St. Columbkill Parish in Boyertown. That trip opened my eyes to what we are called to be, as Catholics, in solidarity with others in the world who are much less fortunate than we are. You could say that led me all the way across the globe to Egypt in January 2018,” said Deacon Petrauskas.

So what exactly is a CRS Global Fellow?

“We are deacons and priests in dioceses across the country called to be the voice for those who have no voice in the world, to preach social justice, to support the good work being done by CRS in over 100 countries around the world, and to be open to an oversees immersion trip whereby the stories of those in most need become close and personal,” Deacon Petrauskas said.

“My trip to Egypt in January involved immersing our group of two priests, and five other fellow deacons, into the programs being administered for the Sudanese and Syrian refugee communities living in Cairo and Luxor,” Deacon Petrauskas said.

These programs included an Educational Assistance Project supporting more than 45,000 refugee children over the past two years, an Interfaith Action Project building opportunities for coexistence with Christians and Muslims, and a Livelihoods Services Initiative working to empower refugees and asylum seekers in the long term by improving the skills and abilities of working-age adults.

“These programs are about building self-esteem and dignity for a people who lost everything fleeing the violence in the war-torn areas of Syria and Sudan,” he said

“The refugees we met with all experienced a genuine feeling of compassion. When meeting with a group of Sudanese refugee women who were participating in a kindergarten through eighth grade teacher training workshop, we asked the question, ‘What message would you like us to take back to the United States?’ She simply said, ‘Thank you for being here and listening. Our children now have a chance of a future.’”

One component of CRS’ clergy continuum involves engaging clergy through the Global Fellows program. Through the program, clergy become engaged in our Gospel call to help our brothers and sisters overseas – and engage parishioners around the world.

CRS Global Fellows share personal stories from their experiences traveling to witness the work of CRS. Through engaging homilies and presentations, Global Fellows share how your parish, school or diocese can respond to the needs of the world’s poorest communities.

CRS Global Fellows are priests and deacons who have been trained and vetted to represent CRS in dioceses across the United States. They are available to deliver homilies, give presentations and trainings at large community events, and speak during school assemblies or during a weekend liturgy.

They will describe, firsthand, the work of CRS and provide concrete examples of how you can help CRS end poverty around the world.

The Global Fellows do not take a second collection at any of their events, and there is no cost to the diocese or the host.

World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day is an annual event held on the same date each year, and 2018 is the 18th year of the event, run by the United Nations Refugee Agency, to state that the world supports and stands with refugees. The event is about raising global awareness of global responsibility for refugees.

World Refugee Day honors the strength and courage of refugees and encourages public awareness and support of the refugees, people who have had to flee their homelands because of conflict or natural disaster.

“World Refugee Day is another way to raise awareness about refugees around the world,” said Robert Olney, CRS liaison and coordinator of the Diocesan Office of Marriage and Natural Family Planning.

Diane Bullard, secretary of the Diocesan Secretariat for Catholic Human Services and executive director of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Allentown, said Catholic Charities does not have plans for World Refugee Day.

However, the next Share the Journey activity is scheduled for Saturday, June 23 at Catholic Charities’ Chew Street Community Center, Allentown.

“A Neighborhood BBQ is planned to celebrate the people of the neighborhood. The day will be celebrated with a cook out and activities for children,” said Bullard.

“A special Share the Journey booth is being planned that will share information about the Share the Journey Campaign and will have special activities for children to participate in that will send welcoming messages to refugees and people who have settled in the Lehigh Valley as the result of turmoil and uncertainty in their homeland.”

For more information about World Refugee Day 2018, click here and here.

Share the Journey

Share the Journey has at its heart the vision of a united global family. The focus is on our joint journey as people on the move in departure, transit and host communities.

The public awareness campaign promotes opportunities and spaces for migrants and communities to come together and share experiences with the aim of strengthening the bonds between migrants and communities.

Caritas Internationalis runs the campaign. Caritas is a global confederation of 165 national development agencies and is the charitable arm of the Catholic Church. Its confederation works at diocesan, national, regional and international levels on issues such as poverty, migration, climate change, hunger, health and emergencies.

Pope Francis launched the campaign from St. Peter’s Square Sept. 27, 2017. On that day he invited everyone around the world to “Share the Journey” with refugees and migrants. The campaign concludes in September 2019.

Pope Francis has made numerous appeals to promote the culture of encounter in an effort to combat the culture of indifference in the world today. It means seeing through the eyes of others rather than turning a blind eye.

“Not just to see but to look. Not just to hear but to listen. Not just to meet and pass by, but to stop. And don’t just say, ‘what a shame, poor people,’ but allow ourselves to be moved by pity,” Pope Francis said.

All Caritas member organizations are invited to promote the campaign at local and national levels by organizing events and activities. Bishops’ conferences and faith-based organizations are invited to share Caritas’ materials with their audience.

Caritas wants to contribute to the building of stronger communities and more inclusive societies. The campaign promotes “the culture of encounter.” Caritas aims to increase the spaces and opportunities for migrants and communities to come together and learn about each other.

Anyone who is interested can join the campaign. Caritas invites in particular people with an experience of migration who can be invited to share their journey, whether they are migrants or communities affected by migration.

According to Caritas, if you are passionate about migration and interested in what’s happening in our world, then this is a campaign where you can make a difference at all levels. This is an opportunity to share something of yourself and offer it up in friendship in exchange for friendship and a journey of discovery.

People can organize an event in their community, pray, advocate to your government on migration, share Caritas’ materials on social media and take a “reaching out” photo in support of the campaign and share on their social media accounts. They can donate to migration projects through their diocesan or national Caritas.

The Share the Journey campaign action guide helps people mobilize their community, school or parish. Other resources are available by clicking here.

Chick here for more information on Pope Francis' Share the Journey Campaign.