Venezuelan Refugees Find Help, Belonging at Colombian Mission

Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church in Cali, Colombia, began offering charitable services to refugees pouring in from neighboring Venezuela in 2017. More than a million refugees have entered Colombia to escape political unrest under Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Venezuela.

“The refugees came to the parish asking for help,” Fr. Rafael Lopera said.

The head of one refugee family assisted by Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church took the time to hand write a letter of thanks to the organization.

The letter describes the family’s need to leave Venezuela because of the “crisis” of the country. The family was made up of four young children, two siblings-in-law, two nieces, and a grandmother. The writer thanks Our Lady of Assumption for providing unconditional assistance and for welcoming the family in, as if they were already engrained members of the community.

Colombian Parish Serves Venezuelan Refugees

In many cases, refugees don’t have a place to stay, access to quality education or even food. The parish operates Our Lady of the Assumption Institute, or INSA, which provides quality education to the children of Cali, Colombia. Because many of the children of the refugee families lack access to quality education, INSA now extends their services to the refugee children of Venezuela.

The soup kitchen, a highlight of their charitable efforts, provides meals for up to 500 families daily, especially mothers and children. Religious sisters within the parish also distribute food packages on Tuesdays to the homeless in the community.

Saint Basil Coffee Supports Humanitarian Efforts for Those in Need

Saint Basil Coffee contributions have been used for specific projects within Our Lady of Assumption parish, which allows them to continue providing services to all those in need within the community. This includes meals during the school day for kindergarten children taught at the parish for six months, new books for an elementary school reading program and the school library, economic assistance to pay tuition and other fees for families in need, and funds to supplement the cost of food provided by the soup kitchen.

Saint Basil Coffee donations have even allowed the parish to provide jobs for some refugees or assist in job placement.

“Every time that we ask for some kind of help, we try to make sure that we use the money to respond to the need of the Venezuelan families,” Fr. Lopera said.

Fr. Lopera said the parish is also in process of looking for and renting houses for refugees and expanding their job training courses. He hopes future contributions from Saint Basil Coffee will go toward bringing on more educators to train Venezuelans.

Colombians throughout the country and in Cali have become more sensitive to the plight of Venezuelans, he said.

Fr. Lopera said the most important gift the parish can offer the Venezuelans is a sense of belonging.

“We want to help them be at home,” he said. “We encourage them to belong to our parish and welcome them to our groups.”

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