Leaders of local church, community groups respond to mayor’s comments on refugees
(Photos by Rebecca Drake)
By Carolee McGrath
SPRINGFIELD – A coalition of church and community leaders gathered at the Bishop Marshall Center, here, today to respond to Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno’s recent statements calling for an end to refugee resettlement in the city.
In a four-page letter released Aug. 13 to the U.S. Department of State, Sarno called refugee resettlement in Springfield a “crisis,” citing public safety concerns. Faith groups quickly countered the mayor’s remarks.
“I am alarmed by and disappointed in the language that has surfaced in this conversation ... Is this the way we want to speak about our fellow human beings and our neighbors?” said Rev. Susannah Crolius (in right photo, at podium), the pastor of South Congregational Church in Springfield. “In our Christian faith community, the primary values of our faith are hospitality, welcoming the stranger and justice making.”
Catholic Charities, Jewish Family Service, Lutheran Social Services, the Council of Churches of Western Massachusetts, and the Pioneer Valley Project were among the organizations represented at today’s meeting.
“We are naturally concerned with these statements concerning the refugee community. Our sincerest hope is that we actually can bring everyone to the table to have a real dialogue,” said Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, executive director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Springfield. She said Catholic Charities does not resettle refugees, but provides secondary services to help families meet every day needs.
“It appears that these already marginalized communities, and perhaps others, may find themselves at risk of becoming unwelcome in the city they have chosen as their home,” she continued. “We would like to get to the root of why he (Sarno) took this route and, secondly, seek to find solutions to whatever it is he perceives as a crisis, and also to set the facts in front of him to really make things straight, so he has an understanding of what we have been doing and what the true figures and facts are.”
Buckley-Brawner (in left photo, at podium) and others pointed out that the majority of refugees in recent years have actually been resettled in West Springfield. According to U.S. Department of State statistics, in the last three years, 1,216 refugees have moved to West Springfield, and 727 to Springfield.
“Immigrants, unlike refugees, voluntarily come to our country. Refugees are invited and become citizens and they settle in our communities. They are going to school, they are graduating from college, they are opening up businesses,” said Archbishop Timothy Paul, president and CEO of the Council of Churches of Western Massachusetts. “They’re coming here, they are going to school. They are working jobs, paying rent, and paying taxes. I think they deserve the same benefit as any other resident.”
Sarno was not available for comment today. Archbishop Paul (in right photo, center) said he received word from the mayor’s office that he will be willing to sit down with church and community groups.
More on this story will be featured on the Aug. 17 edition of the Springfield Diocese’s weekly newsmagazine, “Real to Reel,” which airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.