In college, if you would’ve asked me what St.Norbert’s value of Communio meant, I probably would have rattled off some generic answer from SNC 101. Something like ‘it’s the ideal of a community, united as one, lived out through mutual esteem, trust, and sincerity.’ I never gave much thought to what Communio truly means to me until I began my service year with Mercy Volunteer Corps in Pittsburgh at Acculturation for Justice Access and Peace Outreach (AJAPO) in the Refugee Resettlement and Placement program.
As a case manager, I do everything from apartment hunting and public transportation orientation to scheduling appointments, and of course, a lot of waiting inside government offices. On a given day I may take one client to the doctor, show another how to shop at the grocery store and then help them to open a bank account. From the outside, it looks like my job is running errands with clients. While this is partially true, for me, my job is ensuring that these refugees feel empowered and welcome by bringing them into the community.
Through working with several different refugee families, I have learned a lot about how inaccessible so many services we take for granted in America truly are for someone who does not speak English. Filling out background information surveys at a clinic can become an arduous affair, as each sentence must be carefully typed into google translate. While many of the organizations and government offices we work with during the resettlement period are very helpful and patient, the first 90 days in America for many refugees is still very difficult and stressful. Imagine you had to get off at a certain bus stop in a new city but you could not read any of the signs or transit maps, and no one in the station had the time or the ability to explain which stop you were looking for. As a case manager, I help clients navigate through these situations. In doing so I help my clients to become more independent while they are balancing living in a new country, learning English, and often dealing with the trauma of what happened in their home countries.
These experiences reaffirmed my belief in the importance of Communio. It is truly a diversity of talents, beliefs, and life experiences that make a community great. It is crucial to build intentional relationships with those around us. Sincerity and genuine empathy are the key to building these relationships. To me, living out Communio is creating space where those on the margins are welcome, safe, and feel a sense of belonging. It is a space full of diverse experiences, lifestyles, and traditions. As I strive to live out Communio during my service year, I am hopeful that the MVC community, the community of Pittsburgh and the United States, will welcome refugees into the circle of Mercy and allow them the chance to add their stories to the American narrative.
Louisa Keenan: Pittsburgh, PA