To make Fort Wayne, Indiana and America more welcoming to refugees and immigrants, local faith and social-service organization leaders plan to encourage more faith groups and government and community leaders to build relationships with refugee families.
Some of the faith and social-service leaders involved in the grassroots effort gathered Monday to declare their solidarity with refugees and their support for making Fort Wayne a more welcoming place for them. The announcement at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church was held in conjunction with World Refugee Day, which takes place Tuesday.
"We have a lot of work to do. Let's get to it," the Rev. Brian Flory, pastor of Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren, said as he ended the news conference.
The declaration of solidarity has been signed so far by leaders of 15 faith and community organizations. They include a cross-section of faiths, from various Christian denominations to the city's Reform Jewish congregation and the Universal Education Foundation Islamic center.
The biggest organization signing the declaration is the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, which includes about 80 parishes, Catholic Charities and the University of Saint Francis.
"We encourage faith communities to carefully and intentionally study the teachings of their faith regarding the treatment of oppressed people and to put into practice justice and charity toward our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters," the declaration of solidarity reads.
The declaration says the signers also:
* Affirm a common belief in the dignity of every person, and that all people should be treated humanely, regardless of legal status.
* Support the right of families to live together and oppose the forced separation of married couples and children.
* Reject "harmful rhetoric or actions" that cause fear and anxiety among immigrants and their families, especially their children.
* Invite the Fort Wayne community to stand in solidarity with refugees and immigrants and to offer care to them.
To read the full declaration, go to www.beaconheights.net. People and organizations also can sign on as supporters of the document.
Fort Wayne has a long history of welcoming refugees, immigrants and people seeking asylum, Flory said during the news conference. He said Fort Wayne now is home to about 7,000 refugees, and what once was known as the "City of Churches" has evolved into the "City of Faiths."
"For many people, working with refugees is not a political statement," Flory said, alluding to the controversies involving current U.S. government immigration and refugee policies. "It is a statement of faith."
Helping refugees can become "politicized," however, when people discuss it with fear-based language and fail to connect with refugees at the human level, Flory said.
The political climate has had an impact on refugees' arrival here, said Bobbie Golani, senior administrative officer at Catholic Charities, the main refugee resettlement agency in northeast Indiana. Catholic Charities projects it will resettle 145 refugees by the time the 2017 fiscal year ends Sept. 30, which is about 100 fewer people than during the 2016 fiscal year, Golani said.
To keep the local refugee solidarity effort moving forward, Amani Family Services probably will reach out more to Christian congregations, said Irene Paxia, executive director of social-service organization which works with refugee and immigrant families. Amani previously has worked mainly with non-Christian congregations.
People and congregations who want to get more involved can do so easily, Paxia said, because all organizations that work with refugees and immigrants need financial donations and volunteers.
Agency funding has gone down, she said, but clients' needs have not.
To read the local Interfaith Declaration of Solidarity on World Refugee Day, go to www.beaconheights.net. People and organizations also can sign on as supporters of the document.
Catholic Charities will hold a World Refugee Day open house 1-3 p.m. Tuesday in the lower-level garden room at the Archbishop Noll Center, 915 S. Clinton St. Public parking is available in the attached parking garage. The event is open to the public and will feature food, crafts and music from the many refugee cultural groups now living in Fort Wayne.