With Open Arms

News of Interest

The four floors of the building, formerly used as a student dorm for live-in pupils at St. Wendel’s Mission House, are going to be used as shelter for refugees. There will be four different residential groups

By: Evelyn Schneider

The city of St. Wendel, Germany is renting the former boarding school dorm at St. Wendel Mission House. Refugees are going to be moving in soon. Divine Word Missionaries are looking forward to welcoming them “with open arms” in November 2015.

In recent years, the dorm wing, once used by boarding students at St. Wendel Mission House, has stood empty most of the year. With the boarders gone, quiet had returned to the buildings. But in just a few weeks voices will once again be heard in the corridors. Words in Arabic will sound from room to room.

By November, refugees will be housed on all four floors of the building. The city of St. Wendel is renting 9,515 square feet of living space from Divine Word Missionaries. On October 7, 2015, Mayor Peter Klär and Father Roberto Alda SVD, the rector of the Divine Word Missionary community at St. Wendel’s, signed the rental agreement.

“My confreres are delighted that we are able to offer some help to those in need,” said Fr. Alda. That morning he met with the house council of St. Wendel Mission House, which gave its consent to the plan to house the refugees. “With my council’s consent I can now happily sign the agreement.”

Divine Word Missionaries have already shown once, at the very beginning of the wave of refugees, that they are ready to help on the spur of the moment. When Father Volker Teklik, parish priest at Marpingen, called Fr. Alda to ask whether St. Wendel could offer shelter to a Syrian family, the latter did not hesitate a moment before declaring that the family would be most welcome. It will be the same for the refugees who are soon to arrive.

The former dorm building can accommodate thirty-six persons. “Each floor will have nine individual rooms, plus a lounge or common room, toilets and showers, and a communal kitchen,” Father Fabian Conrad SVD explained. The kitchens are currently being installed. “I have pulled city employees from various building sites and have sent them here to help,” Mayor Klär reported. He said that the renovations would cost over $90,000 or 78,600 Euros. Klär was clearly delighted with the readiness of Divine Word Missionaries to welcome the refugees.

The renovations will be completed soon. Changes to the building will include a separate entrance for the refugees as well as a wall to divide the common entrance foyer, since most of the building will continue to be used by the day students who attend Arnold Janssen Gymnasium.

The school’s principal, Rainer Bommer, has already informed the parents of the students that the refugees will be moving into the school’s former dorm wing. “We are beginning to adjust to this new situation. I personally do not see any cause for concern in the arrival of the refugees,” Bommer said. He was aware, though, of a certain amount of uncertainty among the parents of the students. As the school director, however, he feels that it is important to set an example. Some of the teachers on the staff have already offered to teach classes and to work with the refugees on a volunteer basis.

There are relatively few Christians among the refugees. Most are Muslim. For Divine Word Missionaries that does not create any problem. “As missionaries we are used to dealing with many different faith groups. When there is need, it does not matter whether a refugee is Christian or Muslim. We simply welcome people as people—with open arms,” Fr. Alda speaks of meeting the refugees on equal footing.

Some have expressed their worries and anxieties with regard to the wave of refugees. And then the question of religion always comes up. Some loudly voice their fears that Christian values will be overrun by Islam. To this, Fr. Conrad responds in no uncertain terms, “We have large numbers of people leaving the Church, the number of those attending Mass is declining rapidly, and now all of a sudden people are talking about our ‘Christian values’ and the fear that Christianity will be lost in Europe!”

Divine Word Missionaries are setting an example and are open to receive their new neighbors. “These people will be coming to us out of their need. What we will be doing we will be doing out of love of neighbor—and that is pure Christianity,” says Fr. Alda. Let the refugees bring their values with them and encounter Christian values here. That will be an opportunity to see if we can build up a “together.”

The rental agreement between the Divine Word Missionaries and the city of St. Wendel is open- ended.

The Syrian family mentioned earlier in this article, which the missionaries spontaneously helped in their time of need, has since found a house of their own in the town of Alsweiler. The children already speak good German and their father visits the missionaries at St. Wendel regularly. “He keeps telling me how thankful they all are that we took them in in such a friendly way,” reports Fr. Alda.

This article is an English translation of Evelyn Schneider’s article appearing online in The St. Wendel Zentrum, October 8, 2015.

We gratefully acknowledge the editorial work of Father David Streit SVD, whose expertise as a translator makes this article possible.

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A look at one of the rooms in which the refugees will live

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St. Wendel Mayor Peter Klär (left) and Father Roberto Alda SVD sign the rental agreement for the former dorm building