By Cari DeLamielleure-Scott
Campaign Content Manager, Catholic Relief Services
The Gospel teaches us to welcome the stranger. To feed those who are hungry and shelter those who are homeless.
We are also called to see the face of Christ in those who call out for help, even when it’s hard to recognize him—something Erica Campbell, owner of Be a Heart, has reflected on her entire life.
“Even though we are from different places and we look different, God cares for each one of us the same,” she said. “In return of that love and in gratitude for what God has given us, we must be his hands and feet in this world. We must listen and hear God’s voice in their cries and respond to their needs.”
This Advent season, Erica is offering people a way to respond to the Gospel’s call through an ornament featuring the Holy Family that supports the work of Catholic Relief Services.
As the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States, CRS restores health and opportunity to the world’s poorest, most vulnerable communities, touching more than 100 million lives in more than 100 countries.
Growing up Catholic, Erica associated CRS with “the place that is doing the work of the Gospel.” Today, part of that work is serving the unprecedented number of people who have been displaced from their homes. Nearly 80 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced. Some are living as refugees in other countries, others have sought asylum and many are displaced within their own countries. Additionally, those without safe shelter to call home are among the most vulnerable people for exposure to COVID-19.
These stories are the stories of God’s people on the move. The Israelites escaping Egypt. The Holy Family fleeing Herod. Again and again, Scripture recounts moments of forced migration. Today, God’s human family faces a similar reality. Migration is one of the greatest and most challenging humanitarian crises of our time.
We encounter their stories in the news and on social media and their faces in members of our own community. But without placing yourself in their shoes, their experiences are something we cannot fully understand, which Erica learned just out of college.
Erica lived in subsidized housing in Brooklyn, along with individuals who came to America looking for a better life.
“I remember questioning, ‘Who would want to live here? Why was this a better option,’” she said.
When Erica moved to Brazil to work with Hearts Home, she got the answers to her questions.
“A place I couldn’t fathom living in was beyond what my Brazilian friends could fathom. For them, the subsidized housing was a better life,” Erica said. “To see how we feel entitled to our space, people are not making such a journey unless they see the difficulty and the risks of that being better than what they’re leaving behind.”
Erica’s experiences as a mother and passion for helping migrants and refugees inspired her to create an ornament featuring the Holy Family and support CRS’ work to assist migrants and refugees. She got her idea for the ornament about a year and a half ago, when news of the detention camps at our borders was heightened.
“The Holy Family were refugees themselves, and they had to flee Egypt for the same reasons as many of the families at our borders. They’re leaving violence and fearing for their lives.”
She painted the image after giving birth to her daughter and imagining Mary’s experiences of delivering Jesus.
“When I see an image of a mother holding her child and carrying all her belongings, and recognizing me in them and them in me, these women are their protectors and it’s their love for their children that leads them. I recognize the humanity in these women, and I identify with them as a mother,” Erica said.
She also reflected on how the experiences of the Holy Family fleeing Herod are the experiences of many families today.
“When you purchase a Holy Family ornament, half of the proceeds go back to CRS. But it goes beyond that. The idea is to gift the ornament,” Erica said. Then, the person who receives the ornament sees the website on the box and is inspired to visit crs.org/leadtheway to learn more about CRS’ work.
For more than 75 years, CRS has assisted migrants and refugees worldwide and implemented programs in agriculture, health, education, peacebuilding and livelihoods to address the root causes of forced migration.
“I can give back and support our most vulnerable sisters and brothers in a tangible way that is going to make a difference through partnering with CRS. Food and safety—these are things I cannot physically give at this time in my life, but this ornament is a way to provide for the needs of others and to bring some relief to the mothers to know that they’re providing something for their children.”
If you believe in the possibility of a more just world, join us in turning this belief into reality. As a Church. As a country. As a community of God’s people. Join us today and learn more about Catholic Relief Services’ Lead the Way on Migration campaign by visiting crs.org/leadtheway.