Healthy Soul/My Life/Teen Life/Witness and Evangelization

How the Catholic Church Saved my Refugee Family

Full disclosure, I was nervous to write about this blog topic.

Here were a few of my insecurities: There are a myriad of opinions about refugees in the political sphere. It’s complex. It’s not a fun topic. And it’s uncomfortable.

But despite my apprehension, the reason I’m still writing this blog and why you are currently still reading it, is because I have come to a realization:

The topic of refugees is uncomfortable because mercy is uncomfortable.

The greatest roadblock when it comes to refugees is that they are difficult to humanize. My subconcious thoughts probably look like this, “They’re millions of people. They’re not like me. They’re so far away. It looks unreal. And it’s too big of an issue.”

But the thing is… Mercy doesn’t look at the masses. Mercy looks at the one. Mercy recognizes the individual dignity of each person.

I’d like you to meet one person.

A refugee. My mom at 17 years old. And if you could, for a minute, step into her shoes.

On one haunting midnight in Vietnam, my mom and her family had no other choice but to flee her home from war violence. Splitting up, her family members got into different small fisherman boats not knowing when the next time, or if there was a next time, that they would see each other again. Or perhaps if they would even make it.

My mom spent the next week in the open ocean without food or water. When she and part of her family finally arrived in the US she was relocated to several different refugee camps. She prayed for the entire reunification of her family but did not hear from them or see them until six years later.

They were left with nothing and had to be completely dependent on others kindness and outreach. However compassion was difficult to find. For there weren’t a lot of Asians in the US at the time, people had mixed feelings about letting them in the US, and people mockingly called them, “boat people.”

At this point, she saw people including children drown in the the ocean. Her family was separated. Everything she had and knew was gone. I’m not sure how my mom had hope. Because to leave a refugee camp, essentially someone must “adopt” them.

And this is where mercy comes in.

For my family this was St. Christopher’s Parish in Northern California. This parish community knew nothing about my family but came together to support them. For five years they rented out a house for them, the priest gave them his car, donated furniture, helped them find jobs, taught them English, and gave them scholarships to go to Catholic schools.

The community literally carried my family until they got on their feet. This is real, living, radical mercy. The parishioners recognized my family as humans that were worth sacrificing for.

This is the kind of mercy Jesus is proclaiming again and again in scripture. The kind of mercy that doesn’t make sense and is illogical. The kind of mercy that is hard work. The kind of mercy that says you have 99 sheep? Okay, leave them and find the one that left. This is really what mercy is.

Having mercy on others is not about feeling sorry for another. Mercy is extraneous. It’s helping carry the heavy weight of someone’s cross even when you have no reason to.

How do I have mercy on refugees of today?

We see horrifying clips on Twitter or hear insane statistics about refugees– yet we overlook it. Our hearts are so hardened that we hear about life and death and scroll past it. But the faces and stories should break our hearts. It should afflict us. It should pain us to see the people, who God loves so much, hurting.

In a sense, we need to experience pain in order to be merciful. That’s what Jesus did. He was scourged and crucified to give us ultimate Divine Mercy.

So if we want to be like Jesus, we need to get uncomfortable. We can start by learning more about the refugee issue. Eleven million Syrians have been displaced by violence. Did you know that? What causes these issues? Do you know the names of any of the refugees? What are their stories? What are they going through?

Two, we need to pray for the refugee crisis. Fast from something. Offer up a Mass for them. Your idea of God is not big enough if you think that prayer doesn’t matter. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the last month of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis’ prayer intention is for refugees.

Lastly, maybe God is calling you to do more and be an instrument of mercy. Pray about what God is stirring in your heart.

The first time I fully heard my mom’s story it broke my heart. But I share this story with you as a story of hope and triumph. When she told me about what radical mercy St. Christopher Church had on our family. I wanted to shout, “Yes! Praise God. This is my Church!”

That kind of mercy is what I want our Church to be known by. But more precisely, this is what I want to be known by.

Because if we want a merciful Church or even a more merciful world, then you and I, must be merciful. We must allow our hearts to be broken and moved into the pain and the uncomfortable. We must look at every single person as inherently sacred. And act.


If you would like to learn more about the refugee crisis, what you can do to help, and/or donate here are some good places to start.

About the Author

Teresa Nguyen

I'm a twenty-something gal who's a big advocate for picnics, long walks, and dancing (even if you suck at it). I want to spend my whole life delighting in the Lord's love and being in awe of the sacredness of the human person.

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