Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 23, 1976 when Archbishop Henry J. O'Brien passed away.
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Survivor_1963SURVIVORS – Real-life survivors join with former contestants of TV’s "Survivor" during a fund-raiser for refugees May 15 at St. Mary Parish Center in Simsbury. In front row, from left, are Peh Htoo, a Karen refugee; and Gillian Larson, former contestant on "Survivor." In back row are Terry Deitz, former "Survivor" contestant; Daniel Trust, Rwandan genocide survivor; Dut Tong, genocide survivor from southern Sudan; and David Blanks, who survived being shot five times in Hartford while being mugged. (Photo by Jack Sheedy)

 

SIMSBURY – For Terry Deitz and Gillian Larson, "Survivor" was a game they played on televi-sion. On May 15, these celebrities swapped stories with Peh Htoo, Daniel Trust and Dut Tong, real-life survivors of genocide, war and slavery. By the end of the evening, the celebrity survivors would bow to the real survivors, and about 100 spectators would give generously so that other refugees can persevere.

"Mine was a game," said Mrs. Larson, a contestant on "Survivor: Gabon – Earth’s Last Eden" in 2008. "Mine was something I wanted to do. But the people that we’re fund-raising for had no choice. It was nothing that they asked for. It was done for them."

Mr. Deitz, a contestant in the 2006 "Survivor: Panama – Exile Island," said, "We have a bunch of people in this room who have never had a lot of choices in their lives. When they did have the chance to make the choice, God willing, they made the right choice."

The fund-raising event at St. Mary’s Parish Center was a continuation of that parish’s partnership with Migration and Refugee Services, an arm of Catholic Charities. Deacon Arthur Miller, director of the Office for Black Catholic Ministries and a board member of Catholic Charities, said that four years ago, he wanted to help a group of refugees that Migration and Refugee Services was bringing in. He walked into a men’s group at St. Mary’s Parish and showed a video on refugees from Burundi.

"As I showed them the video, they said, ‘Do you want us to write a check?’ And I said, ‘No,’" Deacon Miller said.

"We didn’t get off that easily," said John Kimball, a member of the men’s group.

"I told them, ‘I want you to love them,’" Deacon Miller said.

"Eight big families came," Mr. Kimball said. "We brought food to them. We ate with them every Sunday, went to church with them every Sunday. They’ve become my friends."

Now these refugee families are independent and are helping other refugees, he said.

Many of the spectators may have come to see and hear Mrs. Larson and Mr. Deitz, who both have ties to Simsbury. Years ago, Mrs. Larson was a neighbor of parishioner Rhoda Obermeier, who organized the event. Mr. Deitz is a member of the parish and has taught Little League and lacrosse to the youth of the town. But by the end of the evening, it was clear that the stories the refugees told were even more compelling than those told by the television stars.

Peh Htoo is a 65-year-old survivor of Mae La, the largest of nine Karen refugee camps in Burma (Myanmar) on the Thai border. Her father, a minister, was killed by Burmese soldiers for preaching the Gospel. From 1984 to 2008, she and her family lived at the camp with 50,000 others. "There was not enough food, not enough straw for the floor, not enough bamboo," she said.

"The people had no jobs, and when they tried to go outside to find work, they were arrested by the police," she said.

Judy Gough, director of Migration and Refugee Services, said, "Her husband and one of her children are still at the camp." They have registered through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but it’s a lengthy process.

"I have a wonderful friend in the Catholic Church," Peh Htoo said. "They love me, and I love them. When I need help, they help me, every time. So in the future, I would like to be a woman who helps people who need help."

Deacon Miller then introduced Daniel Trust, who survived the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Mr. Trust said, "I’m 21 now, and when the Rwandan genocide happened, I was 5 years old."

His father was Hutu and his mother was Tutsi, two Rwandan social classes who warred with each other. "[The soldiers] wanted my father to kill my mother because she was Tutsi," he said. "I think most of you know there is no difference between a Hutu and a Tutsi. We are all Rwandan. We all speak the same language. There is no difference between them."

His father refused to kill Mr. Trust’s mother. Both his parents and two sisters were later killed.

"I always had a dream that one day, one day, one day I was going to be happy, one day I was going to be free," he said. "I hope that you all appreciate what you have. You all have one another."

Mr. Trust is now a business administration major at Southern Connecticut State University. He is also a motivational speaker and entrepreneur who last year created the D-Trust Foundation to raise money to build orphanages around the world. His Web site is danieltrust.com.

Deacon Miller introduced Dut Tong as "perhaps the only slave you will ever meet." Mr. Tong spoke briefly about his escape from war-torn Sudan, where genocide is ongoing. When he was 11, he lived in southern Sudan and had to walk to escape the conflict. He walked 1,000 miles to Khartoum, the capital. He then took a boat to Egypt, where he was enslaved. Catholic Charities assisted him in getting a visa, and in 2004 he came to Connecticut.

"If you run for your life through all the wild animals and the jungle, God will save your life," he said.

Mrs. Gough noted that her agency resettles about 280 refugees a year, more than half of the 500 or so refugees who come to Connecticut annually.

Ed Turbert, a parishioner at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Hartford, heard Deacon Miller’s plea for love and got involved in 2007. He helps refugees fill out forms that various government agencies require of all immigrants. He tells them, "You come from Africa where they kill you with guns and machetes. Here, they kill you with paperwork."

Mrs. Obermeier said that more than $1,800 was raised at the "Survivor" event. The money will go into a fund called Supporters of Global Refugees and will be used by Catholic Charities to help refugees with dental, medical and other emergency expenses. Checks, payable to OBCM/SOGR, may be sent to the Office for Black Catholic Ministries, 467 Bloomfield Ave., Bloomfield, CT 06002. Also, Migration and Refugee Services may be reached at (860) 548-0059 for donations of beds, kitchen tables and chairs.

 

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.