World Refugee Day, Southern Style

It was World Refugee Day yesterday, but here in Memphis we celebrated on Saturday.

Yes, that’s right. Memphis has, and celebrates, refugees.

So along with Athens and London, New York and Sydney, we honored the courageous men, women, and children who have seen much horror, have searched for home, and have found one, this time in a humid little city called Memphis.

This year’s celebration took place at the Christian Brothers University Theater. Hosted by Catholic Charities’ Refugee and Immigration Services of West Tennessee, the annual celebration drew a large crowd of the city’s refugees from around the world, along with volunteers, staff, and anyone else fortunate enough to know about it.

Founded in 1975, Memphis’ Refugee and Immigration Services has cared for resettled people from Vietnam to Somalia, Cuba to Iraq. As Carolyn Tisdale, head of Catholic Charities in Memphis, said on Saturday, “Memphis is an international community that doesn’t know it.”

Performers getting ready before the event

The event opened with a prayer and proclamations from the offices of the city and county mayors. Catholic Charities Director Carolyn Tisdale recognized staff and volunteers.

Entertainment followed the formalities, including Cuban salsa and Bhutanese folk dances.

Below is a video of one of the show-stoppers: The Burundi Singers. This choir has sung together through the horrors of refugee life in an camp in Tanzania. Many of the children were born and raised there as refugees escaping Burundi.

“Music,” says their director, “has kept us together all this time.” They often sing worship music, but the difference today versus a few years ago is that now they include songs of gratitude to God for bringing them to America. Memphis, this is your city:

The program closed with Director of Refugee and Immigration Services Vinodini Jayaraman’s encouragement that we become people who “open our hearts to welcome the stranger.”

Then, after such celebratory performances, what better way to end than a feast?

A multi-cultural potluck speaking two universal languages: rice and deep fryers

Conversation on the patio

We joined in celebrations around the world, including the lighting of the Empire State Building in blue, in this time of remembrance and gratitude. As Deacon Dave Lucchesi said in his opening prayer:

We remember when our rivers ran with red…but today we celebrate. God has rescued us…God, hear our prayer of thanksgiving.

Now you can follow me on Twitter @jocastlemiller! See you there!

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  1. […] year my husband and I celebrated over curry and cake with a newly arrived couple from Southeast Asia and a family of extremely happy […]



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