TUKWILA – In a vegetable garden at St. Thomas Parish, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle extended Pope Francis’ message of welcome to the Burmese and Bhutanese refugees already embraced by the parish community.
The archbishop shook hands and greeted the refugees who gathered for the Sept. 29 visit at the Namaste Community Garden. After a prayer asking God’s blessing to “help us, with your grace, to not build barriers in our hearts,” the archbishop sprinkled the crowd with holy water and blessed the garden, sprinkling holy water over it as well. “Better than Miracle-Gro,” a St. Thomas parishioner joked.
The archbishop’s visit echoed Pope Francis’ call two days earlier for Catholics the world over to “welcome our [refugee] brothers and sisters with our arms truly open, ready for a sincere embrace, a loving and enveloping embrace.”
The pope’s message launched the global “Share the Journey” campaign by Caritas Internationalis, a Catholic social service organization. The campaign invites Catholics to build relationships with refugees and migrants in their communities. It will also advocate for migrants in negotiations of international agreements to ensure their safety and protection.
Archbishop Sartain offered words of encouragement and accompaniment to Burmese and Bhutanese refugees during a Sept. 29 visit to the Namaste Community Garden at St. Thomas Parish in Tukwila. Photo: Jesús J Huerta for Catholic Relief Services
‘All of us were once aliens in a strange land’
The message for Catholics, Archbishop Sartain said, is the importance of becoming “a community that welcomes migrants and refugees, and that we help our people understand how important it is as part of our own life to do that.”
The spiritual need to welcome migrants comes from both the Old and the New Testaments, Archbishop Sartain said in an interview in the parish hall as the crowd shared a meal.
“All of us were once aliens in a strange land, so we should never forget to welcome the stranger. The Lord says when you welcome anyone, you are in fact welcoming him,” the archbishop said. “The fact that we are an international church reinforces that fact. The Lord came to all peoples, and so our brotherhood, our fraternity with all peoples is an expression of faith in Jesus, one way we live it out.”
Two interpreters relayed Archbishop Sartain’s blessing of the international spread of home-cooked foods, ranging from pasta salad to coconut curry.
The garden is a symbol of embrace
The garden at St. Thomas — filled this year with corn, squash, tomatoes, beans, peppers and marigolds — has been cultivated by the refugee community since 2011, a symbol of the parish community’s embrace of the migrants.
Archbishop Sartain blessed the Namaste Community Garden, which has been partially funded by local Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl grants since 2011. Photo: Stephen Brashear
Parishioner Paul Hardin happened to be at St. Thomas in 2010 when the first three Burmese refugees in need of a church came to visit. The parish welcomed them and more, and the garden grew out of that welcoming spirit.
“A lot of them were so depressed, because of having to move and having to lose their country and their homeland, that getting back to earth, getting back to gardening, was very important to them,” Hardin said.
Over the years, the parish has been visited by bishops, monsignors and priests from Burma who want to see the community that’s been built at St. Thomas, Hardin said.
The parish community worked with Forterra, Seattle Tilth and the International Rescue Committee to create the garden. Funding for the garden has come from Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl program in the archdiocese (including a start-up grant in 2011), as well as New Roots and the IRC.
“It’s critical that we as a Catholic people … share our love of and our acceptance of all who come to our country,” Hardin said. “We’re very fortunate here in St. Thomas to have such a diversity of peoples that we can share our ideas with and to express our love of each other.”