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Peter Bell, left, helped migrants look through donated clothing in the parish hall at St. Peter’s Church on Capitol Hill in Washington Aug. 5.
Bell, a retired government worker, is a member of nearby St. Joseph’s Parish and pitched in to help when he heard about the outreach effort.
Peter Bell, left, helped migrants look through donated clothing in the parish hall at St. Peter’s Church on Capitol Hill in Washington Aug. 5. Bell, a retired government worker, is a member of nearby St. Joseph’s Parish and pitched in to help when he heard about the outreach effort.
Photo Credit: Andrew Biraj | Catholic Standard

St. Peter’s on Capitol Hill offers hospitality to migrant busloads

WASHINGTON — For decades, St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill has been known for providing hospitality in its parish hall to people arriving on buses in Washington for the annual March for Life.

This summer, the parish has similarly opened its parish hall doors on Wednesday and Friday mornings and afternoons to busloads of people arriving in Washington. Since the last week of July, the parish has been welcoming migrants sent on buses by governors of Texas and Arizona.

Jorge Esteves and his wife, Catherine Ariza, helped their 4-year-old son, Emilio, try on a donated pair of shoes at the parish hall of St. Peter Church on Capitol Hill in Washington Aug. 5. The immigrant family from Colombia were among 27 migrants who arrived at the parish on a bus that traveled from Arizona.
Photo Credits: Andrew Biraj | Catholic Standard
“This is what we do as Church, to help those in need. There was never a question not to do it,” said Father Daniel Carson, St. Peter’s pastor.

“A lot of people are coming with just the clothes on their back. This provides resources for them on the next leg of their journey,” Molly Pannell, the parish communications and development coordinator, said. “We’ve really been focusing on living our parish mission statement, ‘To be a tangible manifestation of Christ living in the community.’ This is just a natural outreach of that.”

She said parishioners come before work to set up the donated clothing, senior citizens come in the afternoons to distribute items or play with the children, and teens have helped clean up.

Some parish volunteers have driven the migrants to Union Station to catch a bus or train. Parishioners also donated $4,689 to a special collection July 31 to support the outreach.

The parish effort started when Father Brendan Glasgow, the parochial vicar, saw the outreach to migrants arriving by buses at Washington’s Union Station.

He spoke to a representative of SAMU First Response — an international humanitarian agency playing a leading role in serving the migrants — and learned that one of their biggest needs was having a space to welcome them in a dignified way.

“Seeing the need is where it starts,” said Father Glasgow. “There’s a real need for these people to be shown the face of Christ through us. … They’re people looking for a better life. Some have traveled a long way. … Even though we’re welcoming them, what lies in store for them next is still unknown.”

He thought St. Peter’s large, air-conditioned parish hall would be a good location for offering that hospitality, and partnering with SAMU, the parish welcomed the first bus a week after he had this discussion.

When the parish announced this outreach, it received some negative comments on social media but he said that didn’t stop them because “we are Church. It’s not political. It’s to fill a need for our brothers and sisters.”

On the afternoon of Aug. 5, a large bus pulled up outside St. Peter’s Church after traveling about 2,640 miles over two days from Somerton, Arizona, on the state’s southwest border with Mexico.

The 27 migrants stepping off the bus, mostly families, included a mother holding a little girl’s hand, and a father carrying his young son. A woman outside the bus tearfully greeted her reunited family members.

Those family reunifications are “beautiful moments,” said Tatiana Laborde, managing director of SAMU First Response in Washington.

She was joined that afternoon by seven SAMU staff members who guided the arriving migrants to the parish hall and met with them to assist with plans for the next step of their journeys and to help most of them connect with family members or friends.

Laborde said many of the migrants arriving on recent buses are originally from Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba and Nicaragua. Some are fleeing violence, the political situations or the economic crises.

Some of the migrants flew to Mexico and then made their way to the U.S. border, while others traveled by land, including Venezuelans whose journey included walking through jungles and mountainous regions and traveling by canoes over rivers.

“They’re asylum-seekers, allowed to be legally in the country,” she told the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper.

Jorge Esteves, his wife, Catherine Ariza, and their children Emilio, 4, and Tiogo, 1, from Colombia, were among the families finding respite at the parish Aug. 5. Emilio had a new Spider-Man backpack and held onto trucks that he picked up at the toy table.

Through an interpreter, Esteves said his family is Catholic and that they had left Colombia because they couldn’t find economic opportunities there and were concerned about their children’s educational future.

He had worked in a bakery and done construction work. Now, the family planned to connect with friends in North Carolina, where he hoped to provide new opportunities for his children.

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