WASHINGTON, D.C. — The pews of Holy Trinity Catholic Church seat some of the most powerful political players in Washington.
Every now and then, the president drops by the parish, as does the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, members of Congress and diplomats.
But Dec. 11, the church’s pastor, Jesuit Father Kevin Gillespie, told a group of migrant families gathered for a Mass to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe that “in some ways, you are the most important families, children and mothers and fathers, in our entire parish.”
The migrant families, their journey, their bond with parishioners who have shared their joys, sorrows and challenges in a new land, were on display during the celebration that began with the Mass followed by a “Migrant Family Fiesta.”
“You bring the Blessed Mother’s son, Jesus, in a very important way,” Gillespie told them.
The families gathered to receive a blessing from the pastor along with their “mentors,” parishioners who are part of the Holy Trinity Migrant Team that springs into action whenever an emergency involving migrants presents itself.
“It’s become a ministry,” Jeanne Rossomme, who makes up part of the team, told Catholic News Service.
Whenever a case arises involving a migrant family or an individual needing housing, food, a job or transportation, the dozen or so parishioners on the team begin a flurry of emails and text messages, looking for helpers.
“We feel like the Holy Spirit brings them to us in some way,” said Rossomme. “Every time we need something, we put it out there and it is provided. Someone steps forward.”
The Holy Trinity effort began almost five years ago with lay members, like Rossomme, seeking a way to do something to alleviate the suffering of migrants they were reading about.
Rossomme became involved after she and her husband returned home from a parish trip to learn about the plight of migrants at the border and felt compelled to help somehow. When the request to provide housing for someone who had fled Nicaragua arrived, they welcomed the migrant into their home.
“We had a community behind us so that’s what really helps,” she said. “It’s not just you.”
Putting various resources together, the migrant team was able to help the person find work, legal guidance, and provide food and transportation, and eventually the person became independent. Now he helps others going through similar situations.
“We get more than we give,” said Rossomme. “You see the unbelievable difficulties that these families have faced and see their faith through all of it. It is really inspiring … the love and joy they give back, despite all the trauma they’ve been through.”
The work of the team has been a blessing to his family, said Etienne Mbala Cimanga, forced to flee his home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with his wife and children in 2016 because of political and other problems. Even though they applied for asylum, their case still is pending.
“We wanted to be here for the safety of our children and for our own safety,” he said. “It’s so scary, scary, and you can’t even set up anything long run because you don’t even know what tomorrow is going to be, what it’s going to look like.”
But the sense of kinship the parishioners have offered has kept his family going, he said.
“We are so grateful for having Holy Trinity Catholic Church who have been supporting us especially during this challenging time,” Mbala told CNS. “Just amazing, and we thank the Lord for all of that.”
In the pews, his daughter, a tot named Blessing, clapped during the recessional hymn “La Guadalupana” honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe.
After Mass, the families, some from Gabon, others from Guatemala and Honduras, gathered in the parish hall, shared a meal, and caught up with one another and with parishioners, as their kids played together.
Rossomme and others from the migrant team cheered as the children took whacks at a piñata.
“It’s been a big faith journey, I think for me, and I think I can say, for a lot of people in the group, and the community,” she said. “We have this bond with each other. Especially during COVID, there’s this sense of community, of being part of something that’s light and good as opposed to all the darkness.”