By Dave Jolivet
BOURNE — “They are us, and we are them.” That’s how Susan Mazzarella described the 48 migrants who made a perilous journey from poverty-stricken Venezuela to Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard, and then to Joint Base Cape Cod in Barnstable County. Mazzerella is the Chief Operating Officer of Catholic Charities Diocese of Fall River (formerly Catholic Social Services).
Mazzarella and her staff were asked by the Commonwealth’s Governor Charlie Baker to assist in helping the migrants to get settled and ultimately find permanent housing, jobs and earn a living for themselves — some for their families as well — and also to contribute to the community in which they call home. Two of Mazzarella’s staff who went to Joint Base spoke Spanish and the immigration lawyer from the Fall River office of Catholic Charities went as well.
Realizing the immigration issue is politically polarizing, Mazzarella and her staff concentrate on the corporal works of mercy aspect of this emotionally-charged story. “We at Catholic Charities-Fall River follow Matthew 25: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger,” Mazzarella told The Anchor.
“The people we have here on Cape Cod are all legal, having initiated the asylum from Venezuela process, a South American country torn by extreme poverty, drug problems and crime.”
Mazzarella said that the 48 include four families. “There are nine women, some part of those families, eight children from ages two through eight, and some single males.
“They each volunteered to come to Martha’s Vineyard even though they didn’t know where it was or anything about it. They did have the same common goal, to find a home and a job and support themselves and the community.
“I know there are those who have a different view of these people, but all of us, except for the Native Americans, originate from immigrant families who came here to find a better life for their families and themselves.”
The story first broke on September 14 when the migrants were put on a chartered aircraft bound for Martha’s Vineyard.
Shortly after the migrants arrived on Cape Cod, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., released a statement which in part read, “Here in the Diocese of Fall River, which encompasses Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, we must do all we can to ensure a humanitarian response to this crisis. Now that the state has relocated the migrants from the island to a military base on the Cape mainland, bilingual staff from Catholic Charities-Diocese of Fall River (Catholic Social Services) is there to welcome them in their native language and to assist officials in assessing their needs, immediate and long term. The agency has committed its resources to address these needs working alongside the state and other relief agencies. Pastoral outreach including Mass and the sacraments will be made available from our parishes in the region, and parishes may also be called upon for other support depending on needs that become evident. I know that one of our churches on the Vineyard is ready with additional shelter space should the need arise.”
Mazzarella told The Anchor that the group was warmly welcomed by many people on the island and many scrambled to make arrangements for lodging, meals and other necessities.
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church took in the group, providing sleeping bags and a warm, safe temporary place to stay.
“Volunteers from Good Shepherd Parish in Edgartown on the Vineyard were part of about 150 volunteers of all denominations, plus students from the high school, who stepped up to help distribute meals, clothing and shoes.
“The folks were warmly received and treated with dignity and respect, the same way there were when they arrived on the Cape on their way to Joint Base. Both communities have absolutely wrapped their arms around these people.”
Mazzarella spoke highly of Gov. Baker and his efforts to provide for the migrants. “So many have taken a humanitarian approach to help stabilize their lives and feel welcome, which is very important to them.
“There are so many agencies from Massachusetts who are here and providing all types of assistance.”
Gov. Baker has provided immigration lawyers and enlisted the assistance of the Mass. Department of Health , the Mass. Department of Mental Health, and the National Guard.
Several non-profit agencies have also stepped in, including Father Bill’s and MainSpring, a housing assistance agency based in Brockton. “There are lots of hands that have pitched in. It’s a joint effort and we are here to provide whatever is asked of us. The state has taken charge of everything.
“The people are very happy to be here,” Mazzarella told The Anchor. “They’ve come from very dire circumstances in Valenzuela and made a perilous journey to get where they are now. And above all, they are so grateful for all the assistance and especially for being welcomed. One of their greatest requests was Dominos pizza and soccer balls. We provided that to them, as well as the pump to fill the balls with air.
“Contrary to what some people may think, the migrants are not in a prison at the base. They are free to leave and look for work and to see what the area is like. We have provided them with Uber cards if needed.
“Some of the men want to go back to the Vineyard. They loved it there and they want to find work there.”
Mazzarella said that some of them have shared the stories of where they came from and the journey to get here. Mazzarella shared with The Anchor how she was touched by watching the two-year-old. “We gave the boy a couple of Matchbox trucks and he sat on the floor for hours just playing with them and making the sounds trucks make. He was so happy and innocent. He acted like any two-year-old would. It showed me just how much the same we all are; we are all brothers and sisters.”
Mazzarella told The Anchor that arrangements are being made for the people to be able to attend Mass and receive the Sacraments. Bishop da Cunha has offered to go speak with them, and that is in the works right now.
“I feel so honored to be able to help is some way. I am so proud of my staff. And I am grateful to be able to reflect on my own life and the things I take for granted. I feel so connected to these people.”
“These newcomers to our area have endured a difficult journey and the challenges they face are many,” said the bishop. “Our welcome to them must be marked by respect and compassion and be coupled with our prayers for them in the weeks and months ahead.”
Since the state is in charge of providing material needs, people are encouraged to help financially.
To help provide the basic necessities and to help them establish new lives, financial donations can be sent to Catholic Charities-Diocese of Fall River, 1600 Bay Street, Fall River, Mass. 02724, Attention Joint Base Migrants. A link will be established on its website at www.cssdioc.org for donations.