New York City students hit the road to help refugees
November 01, 2016
(Queens, N.Y.) Nov. 1, 2016 – When
Pope Francis declared that 2016 would be a “Year of Mercy,” asking the world to
reach out and help the vulnerable, a group of students in Queens, N.Y.,
listened closely and took heart.
After learning about the plight of
Syrian refugees and other forcibly displaced people, catechism students at Most
Precious Blood Catholic Church in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., decided
to put their faith into action and embark on a four-mile charity walk earlier this
year. The group took no water and walked at a fast clip as a way of replicating
the harsh conditions refugees typically face.
The students raised money through sponsors
and by collecting donations at the end of masses in the weeks prior to the walk,
eventually collecting $2,537, which they donated to Jesuit Refugee
“At least we knew that when we got to
(the end) that we would be able to drink and eat some sandwiches. But the
people that we’re trying to help don’t have that luxury,” said Rosa Gonzalez, a
catechism teacher at Most Precious Blood who helped organize the May event. “We wanted our students to really feel what our
Her daughter, Isabella Alvarez, 12,
said she was eager to take part in the walk because refugees “are struggling,
and here we have many things.”
“We kind of take things for granted
(in the United States) and this kind of opened my eyes to the world around us
and that there’s more stuff happening outside of New York,” she said. “I wanted
to help so I feel better so I don’t feel like some spoiled little princess. I
wanted to go out and help others to make a difference.”
Italo Peralta, 13, said that after
learning about the Syrian refugee crisis in school and from TV news, he wanted
to find a way to help.
“That was about the time that Miss
Rosa presented the idea. That’s why I rose my hand and said, sure, let’s help
this war to end, or help the people escape from the war,” he said. “Knowing that we helped at least a
few, and saved their lives probably, it’s actually a great thing we did.”
Brayn Zhao, 13, who also participated
in the walk, said that while the majority of Syrian refugees aren’t Christian,
like himself, it would be “selfish” not to help people of different faiths.
“Let’s say they’re Muslim or Hindu – it
doesn’t matter. We all are a community,” he said. “Everybody needs to help one
another, and we need to help everybody in our community… We can’t let them die.
It’s partly our fault if they die” and we don’t help.
During six-hour pilgrimage
through Astoria the students visited three parishes; St. Patrick’s, St. Rita’s
and finally ending at Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Because of the group’s size and the
banners they carried, the students were easily distinguishable from other
pedestrians. And because passersby, at least at first, didn’t know what to make
of the group, the group said they felt they were singled out in a sense – like refugees.
“I think the children felt – not a stigma
– but identified,” said another teacher who participated in the walk. “It’s
similar to being like a refugee. People are identifying you and not knowing
what to do with you… It was a very interesting experience for them to wear
their faith so obviously.”
Elia Disaverio, 13, said that, at
first, she wasn’t sure if he’d get anything out of the experience.
“I remember the first block I was so
tired and thought, what am I doing here?” she said. “Then when I really thought
about what we were doing, I was really proud of myself that I took the day and helped other people. That really made me feel good that I was showing my
|About 100 catechism students and chaperones from Most Precious Blood Catholic Church in Queens, N.Y. took part in a four-mile charity walk earlier this year to raise money for refugees. (Photo courtesy of Most Precious Blood Catholic Church)
| “Everybody needs to help one another, and we need to help everybody in our community… We can’t let them die.”
by Sean Lengell
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
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