Campus Ministry students bring Christmas cheer to refugee families

St. Augustine CelebrationCrackling wood from a warm fire, Yuletide carols, and gifts hiding under a tree: in the minds of many Americans, these images capture the joy and hopefulness of Christmas. But for refugee families who are fleeing from the horrors of war and religious persecution, they resemble anything but reality. Often these families arrive in the United States empty-handed, leaving behind their homes, possessions and livelihoods.

As a way to fulfill Christ’s call to lift up our struggling neighbor, members of Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Central Florida joined with Catholic Charities in December to bring Christmas cheer to area children from refugee families.

“Catholic Campus Ministry is always looking for opportunities to collaborate, to harmonize ministries, by sharing the good work of other diocesan groups,” said Father Ben Berinti, C.PP.S, Director of Catholic Campus Ministry at UCF.

When Father Berinti noticed a simple flyer advertising the refugee youth program at Catholic Charities of Central Florida, that opportunity arose.

He quickly contacted Catholic Charities caseworker Sarah Mack, who explained that recent refugees are often celebrating Christmas for the first time and have never had the experience of receiving a Christmas gift. Together they challenged the members of Catholic Campus Ministry to fulfill the Christmas gift “wish list” for 22 refugee children.

“Students flocked to me, asking ‘What should I buy? I don’t know what a 15 year old likes!’ recalled Father Berinti. “I said ‘just buy what you like and you’ll be fine!’”

“From the smiles on the faces of the young people, I guess my advice worked,” he continued.

The students not only purchased enough gifts to meet the wish list for all 22 young people who were participating in the Catholic Charities’ refugee youth program, but they also provided additional gifts for siblings who were not a part of the program.

“This was a great project for us. Young people helping young people, welcoming the stranger,” said Fr. Beriniti.

While media headlines frequently end once a refugee family has landed in the United States, the family’s journey has only begun- and starting over can seem formidable. To help these families as they transition to a new culture, Catholic Charities of Central Florida provides a number of vital services, including community orientation, employment counseling, and assistance with housing and transportation.

Over the past year, Catholic Charities helped to resettle nearly 200 refugees in Central Florida and provided services to more than 4,300 individuals from refugee families.

To learn more about the programs and ministries offered by Catholic Charities of Central Florida, please visit www.cflcc.org

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