Amid great darkness, a powerful story of light and love

At times I feel like the darkness of events around us is overshadowing the light. Last month there was another horrible mass shooting that killed more than 49 people and injured another 53 in Orlando, Florida. Yet another national and international tragedy has befallen us. More families suffering and lives lost.

In the face of more tragedy, we can choose to turn in or to turn out, and so I am choosing to turn out to all of you. I am focusing on peace and joy and love — love especially for individuals and families who have experienced violence. Our prayers are with the community of Orlando, and people around the world who experience violence and tragedy in their everyday lives.

Let me share with you a story of hope. A story of a family who came to Anchorage from violence and misery and who, with the support of our community, has made a new life. The Catholic Social Services Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services (RAIS) program recently resettled a family from the Democratic Republic of Congo. This family of a mother and father and five children came to Anchorage after many, many years of living in a refugee camp because of the violence happening in their home country, where a civil war has been raging for almost a decade.

In the Congo, those caught between the sides of the civil war are persecuted and injured. This young family arrived in Anchorage excited to work and earn a living, to send their children to school, to make a life for themselves and most basically to be safe. After just a few months of being here, the children settled into school in the Anchorage School District and are flourishing. The father, a former Christian pastor, was hired by Providence Hospital where he has high hopes of moving up the ranks in his position. The mother found work as well, as a custodian at a local gym. Last summer the oldest child worked with Youth Employment in the Parks and won an award of recognition for his work there. He is a recent East High School graduate and has won several scholarships to attend UAA this fall.

In the short time this family has been in our community they have created incredible success. This was possible through the support of community partners like the Anchorage Literacy Project and the Anchorage School District, the support of all of you in the community who work and volunteer with our RAIS program and the support of partners in the federal government. This amazing family’s success requires their constant work and care to sustain, but they are on their way.

Before any of these successes were possible, they first had to find safety. They deserve to be safe — we all deserve that. We can support and build safe communities by reaching out to our neighbors. I hope we can continue to build that ideal, despite the darkness and random acts of violence happening in other countries, and right here in the United States. The stories of people reaching out to help each other are so much more numerous and powerful than shootings and hatred. Let us all help each other to spread the stories of light and love today, and every day.

The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more information about CSS, call 222-7300 or visit

'Amid great darkness, a powerful story of light and love'
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