MORRISTOWN Violence and suffering continues unabated for many who once called Aleppo in Syria their home. Last week, while on retreat, Pope Francis offered Mass for the war-torn country and donated 100,000 euros to help the poor in Aleppo. Pope Francis’ gesture reminds all Catholics that serving the least among us, is part of the Church’s central teachings.
Hearing the cry of the poor, some Catholics in Morris County have been reaching out to help refugees there through Refugee Assistance Morris Partners (RAMP), a non-profit coalition of faith-based organizations dedicated to helping families from Middle Eastern refugee camps transition to productive lives of dignity, safety and hope in Morris County area.
A dozen churches, religious orders, synagogues and mosques in the area are part of this coalition including St. Vincent Martyr Parish, Madison, the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, Convent Station, and St. Matthew Parish in Randolph.
Last fall, a Syrian family consisting of a father, mother and their three children — ages 18, 8 and 6 resettled in Morris County under the sponsorship of Church World Service and RAMP. The family had a third son, who was killed in the bombing before they fled to Turkey, where they spent three years before coming to the United States.
For more than 15 years, Father Daniel Murphy, pastor of St. Matthew’s, has been involved in interfaith programs because he believes dialogue among different religions is an important factor in bringing peace to the world. He learned about RAMP last year after Randolph’s interfaith community discussed the need to reach out to those in the Middle East. He thought the work of RAMP was a great opportunity for parishioners to help the refugees.
“Reaching out to refugees is core to who we are as Catholics, particularly in the Gospel of Matthew, ‘I was a stranger you took me in,’” said Father Murphy. “The word Catholic implies universal. We are part of a larger world and Pope Francis calls us to reach out to those in need. The Catholic Church has always been countercultural. We need to do what God’s work teaches us and not follow the prevailing culture.”
Several parishioners were involved in setting up the apartment furnished by RAMP and provided household basics. Doreen Guzo and Marybeth Boughton are two parishioners from St. Matthew are who volunteered with RAMP to set up the new home.
“There were 30 volunteers in the house from all faiths,” Guzo said. “It was a beautiful interfaith gesture. Our parish did such a small part in the work of RAMP. There have been so many others who have gone above and beyond to help this family.”
Boughton added, “It was exciting to have people of all faiths and ages sharing the gifts they had to make this come together. We made a house into a home. On a personal note, this was the first time I got to know Muslims. I spoke to a young woman who was volunteering and a father who came with his two young children.”
In addition to setting up the new apartment, RAMP has been working with the refugees to provide community orientation, identifying appropriate social services, educational assistance, teaching them English and finding transportation and medical care. RAMP also hopes to find employment for the family members. The father is skilled in many areas of construction; the mother is a hairdresser and the oldest son has computer programming skills. In the spring, RAMP is planning a pot-luck dinner for volunteers to meet the family.
According to RAMP, the first English words, the family spoke were “thank you.”
“The family has been eager to express gratitude after their extraordinarily difficult journey from their native Aleppo, to their three years as refugees in Turkey, to a true home here. The family, especially the mother, has truly fallen in love with their home here.”
Interfaith discussions and fellowship have always hit close to home for Father Murphy. He attributes the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City for this desire and passion to bring peace to the world. Father Murphy lost his brother, Edward, that day in the terrorists’ attacks. “Since 9/11, I always want to give honor to my brother. I don’t want my brother’s death and the lives of so many lost to bring about more violence and hatred but peace, love and understanding.
While the talk of helping refugees has become political lately, Father Murphy reminds all Catholics that helping those in need is what they are called to do. He invites the faithful to join in dialogue with the interfaith communities of Randolph, which are also co-moderated by Imam Wahy-ud Deen Shareef of the Islamic Center of Morris County in Rockaway and Rabbi Menashe East of Mount Freedom Jewish Center in Randolph.
Upcoming events that will take place are: a film screening on “Three Faiths, One Land” on May 11 at a site to be determined and a Holocaust Memorial Service June 6 at the Mount Freedom Jewish Center. Both events are at 7:30 p.m.
“Conditions in Aleppo are terrible,” Guzo said. “There is so much poverty, a lack of food and people need to feel safe. Try to put yourself in their situation and you can’t help but want to reach out.”