Darien church honors Norwalk refugee family

DARIEN — Wanting to send the community a message of unity and hope — and in direct answer to President Trump’s controversial ban on immigration that appears to target Muslims — St. Luke’s Parish in Darien recently hosted Welcome the Refugee: A Night of Prayer, Poetry, Art and Song.

Close to 200 attendees, including town and state officials, heard Syrian, Japanese and American folk songs, poetry and prose readings relating to immigration and exclusion, and thoughts from one longtime Muslim area resident who has deep concerns about the country’s current climate.

Ali Almeoqdad, a Syrian refugee now living in Norwalk who, along with his wife and four kids, has been sponsored by church members, was the guest of honor.

“I’m very, very happy,” he said. “I am a very lucky guy. The people have really opened their hearts and opened their arms to receive us here in this parish.”

“It’s part of our faith,” said the Rev. Danny Lennox, associate rector for spiritual formation at St. Luke’s. “Our practice as a Christian community is to reach out to our neighbors, to invite the stranger into our midst. That is the gospel imperative.”

He said that about 18 months ago he and other church members heard a talk from a representative of the New Haven-based Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, which in turn led them to become active in helping with the recent arrival of Syrian refugees into Connecticut.

“A small group of us started to say, ‘If we’re going to be a church and walk in the steps of the Lord, this is the work we’re going to do,’” Lennox said.

“Tonight is really people from this and other communities who are gathering just to say there is no exclusion in this community,” said the Rev. David Anderson of St. Luke’s Parish.

“We’ve welcomed a Syrian refugee family here to our community,” he said, “and all over this state there are hundreds of refugees who have joined us, and because of the tenor of the (ban) a lot of them wonder if they’re welcome here.”

“This is in all our scriptures, how you’re supposed to help strangers,” said Azzeim Mahmoud, imam of Al Madany Islamic Center of Norwalk.

“I want to thank everyone in this community,” he said. “I see the dedication (and) this is really moving.”

Mahmoud spoke briefly about the trauma and tragedies being endured by Syrian families.

“When you shut the door on these people who are seeking help, you close the door on hope,” he said.

“I salute all the people who have stood against this banning of immigrants,” he said, even though it has been difficult for some to do so.

“We have to stand and say what is going on is wrong,” Mahmoud said. “We have to stand collectively — Christian, Jew, Hindu, Muslim — everybody.”