GREEN BAY, Wis. — Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay joined other local agencies in Green Bay June 20 for a World Refugee Day celebration which included pick-up soccer games, international music and food, as well as an information table about local refugee communities.
It was the first public celebration of its kind in Green Bay, according to Peter Weiss, living justice advocate for Catholic Charities.
World Refugee Day was first celebrated in 2001 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. “World Refugee Day is a key moment in time to communicate with the world about who refugees are and why they require protection,” according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
“I see (the observance) as kind of a twofold function,” Weiss told The Compass, Green Bay’s diocesan newspaper. “One is to help people from the refugee community to know that they are welcomed here. We do value you as members of this community and we want you to feel connected. The other part of it is, for people in the broader community, to encourage them to get out and meet their neighbors, to interact with people who may look different or talk different, but to really encourage them.”
Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich, who attended the event, said it helps refugees recognize that the city embraces them.
“I think it’s really essential for me as mayor of this community to make it clear that everybody is welcome here … and really, this is the story of America, right?” said Genrich.
“In talking to some of the folks here today, just the gratitude you can feel from them because of the opportunities they have here, the safety that they feel here, in comparison to their experiences, for example, back in Somalia. It’s really night and day,” added Genrich. “So it’s just up to us to embrace people who are new to this country and just make it clear that this is a welcoming, inclusive community.”
Catholic Charities staff members Ana Rodriguez and So Thao attended the event and welcomed one of their client families, Andjelani Welongo and her five children, who arrived in Green Bay last February from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Rodriguez said it is important to celebrate and embrace refugees “for them to feel welcomed into the community.”
“Oftentimes, I think they are isolated. They are new to America and they don’t know where the nearest park is or other community (services), so I think it’s extremely important to build those connections with people, to get to know people in the community,” said Rodriguez.
Members of United ReSisters of Green Bay, a group established in 2017 to support young Somali refugee women, especially through education and community building, were also at the event. Twelve members of the group recently wrote a book that shared their stories of resettlement, according to Diana Delbecchi, co-founder of United ReSisters.
“We have a growing refugee population and we have people here who have refugee backgrounds who came here years and years ago that really have never gotten a chance to come together and be celebrated. I think it’s a really positive event, a great day to celebrate the coming of community,” Delbecchi added.