Circles of Understanding

By From the Heart | Dianne Towalski | Behind the Lens

Apr 07

Do not mistreat foreigners who are living in your land … Love them as you love yourselves. Lev. 19:33

Many people in the St. Cloud area have been struggling over the fact that we have many Muslim refugees living in our community. Some struggle because they are afraid. With the increased attention from national news, it’s not hard to understand. But it shouldn’t be that way.

Refugees from Somalia make up the largest number of Muslim residents in the area and have been coming here for many years. Many of them are citizens now, which is why we need to make an effort to get to know them. Their stories are fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking.

On March 24, people from different faith communities gathered at Discovery School in St. Cloud for the second “Circles of Understanding” event.

Sponsored by the St. Cloud Area Faith Leaders group, a group that Bishop Donald Kettler helped to create, the events aim to bring people from varied faith backgrounds together in small groups to get to know each other. Many from the Somali community participated.

“So much of what is causing the fear that seems to be rampant is misconceptions, false ideas or ‘fake news’, and people not sitting down with each other,” said Kathy Langer, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities and an organizer of the event.

“In Circles of Understanding, people spend two hours together, getting to know each other.  Not playing a game and not checking their phones, but really talking and listening with their hearts open. No distractions, no entertainment, but just listening and sharing stories and thoughts,” she said. “People are really amazing when they are given the opportunity to be a part of Circles. You can see it on their faces. Walls of fear and misconception disappear. That is what Jesus did and that is what we are all called to do…to sit with and to listen.  What comes from a heart open to listening is the Spirit’s work.”

This effort is something that is very close to our bishop’s heart.

“As a priest and bishop, an important part of my ministry is to bring unity between people and God as well as strive to unite people in the community,” Bishop Donald Kettler said in a column last year. “Since arriving in the diocese three years ago, I have worked to foster peace and unity among our faith communities.”

“Get to know better some of our Somali-Muslim brothers and sisters,” he recommended. “Search for opportunities to share a conversation or a meal.”

And the timing of the “Circles” event couldn’t have been better because earlier in the week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a reflection titled “Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times.” The reflection was issued “in solidarity with those who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict or fear in their native lands,” according to a news release. In this short document, the bishops encourage Catholics to reach out to immigrants and refugees in their communities.

“Let us not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life,” the reflection says. “They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future.”

You can read the whole reflection here:

You never know what someone has been through in their life. Take the time to get to know these new members of our community. You won’t be disappointed.

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor as well as the paper’s page designer. Read more about Dianne on our Meet Our Bloggers page.

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