“It’s important for a parish to recognize the needs of the community and respond to it. In the Reading area, there is a large immigrant community. I was hearing from people – Catholics and non-Catholics – who were looking for language classes to help them better integrate into society,” said Father Andriy Rabiy, Pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic parish.
Father Rabiy recognized that the language barrier faced by many immigrants limits their ability to work and support their families and make connections with people in the community.
Relying on the talents of Emlyn Jones, a parishioner who had taught English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for 30 years, the people of the parish began to host regular ESL classes for residents of Reading, regardless of their faith. Perhaps because many of the families in this predominately Ukrainian parish recognized a connection with these immigrant families, the people of the parish were overwhelmingly supportive, donating to purchase books so that the classes can be provided free of charge. The Nativity ESL classes are offered in two tiers, introductory and intermediate, and have hosted up to 10 students per class.
The ESL classes aren’t the only way Nativity parish has supported the community. In nearby Leesport, the Berks Family Residential Center offers services for immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security, which runs the center, asked the parish to help a woman from Ukraine with two children who was seeking asylum status. The parish again recognized a sister-in-need, and responded by helping with translation, donating clothing and food, and finding the family legal services and housing. She has since been approved to work in this country.
The facility has contacted the parish to work with other people from Eastern European countries when they arrive in Berks County.
“We are helping people who are distressed. They are right here in our community, and we have a calling to help our brothers and sisters in need, regardless of their religion,” said Father Rabiy.
Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Reading is just one example of how the more than 1,000 Catholic parishes across the state offer support and assistance to their local community. Others provide food pantries, clothing drives, and emergency assistance, among many other community services.