Catholic center for Venezuelan refugees opens in Brazil with help from U.S.

Venezuelan family members talk April 2, 2019, after receiving food and other emergency support from the Consolata Missionary Sisters in Boa Vista, Brazil. Two Catholic-backed organizations opened a center in Brazil's capital to host Venezuelan migrants relocating from the refugee centers in the Amazon region. The refugees are expected to begin arriving at the center in March 2021. (CNS Photo/Paul Jeffrey)

SAO PAULO — Two Catholic-backed organizations opened a center in Brazil's capital to host Venezuelan migrants relocating from the refugee centers in the Amazon region.

The initiative is part of a project implemented by AVSI Brasil, a humanitarian aid and development agency with links to the Catholic Church, and Brazil's Migration and Human Rights Institute and is designed to support and complement Operation Welcome, the Brazilian government-led response to the Venezuelan migration crisis. This migration institute is administered by the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo.

"Our collaboration in this project is a celebratory and important milestone in our mission of Scalabrinian Sisters, whose specific purpose is to work with immigrants and refugees," said Scalabrinian Sister Rosita Milesi, director of the Migration and Human Rights Institute.

At the Feb. 4 inauguration ceremony, Sister Milesi said welcoming immigrants and integrating them to Brazilian society through employment corresponds to the sense of humanity often touched on by Pope Francis.

"Immigrants and refugees are present in his discourses at all times. He has been insistent on strengthening the feeling of humanity, solidarity and a sense of respect for the dignity of the human person," she said.

Sister Milesi said a person's dignity is fundamental and cannot change or be reduced just because the person has crossed a border.

"Dignity is essential. It doesn't matter where we serve that person, where he/she was born. He/she has dignity in any environment, on any border, in any country," she said, adding that the project of integration through employment restores the dignity sometimes lost when a person becomes a refugee or an immigrant.

The center, dubbed Casa Bom Samaritano (Good Samaritan Home), is funded by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and is located on property owned by the Brazilian bishops' conference.

The center will serve as a temporary residence for up to 15 families on a rotating system. According to AVSI officials, refugees may live at the center for up to three months.

"In each family, at least one person has been selected to work in Brasília and needs a safe space to live for the first three months," said Fabrizio Pellicelli, AVSI Brasil president.

The Venezuelan families are expected to start arriving at the new center at the beginning of March.

AVSI officials say that the project, started in 2019 to promote the integration Venezuelan refugees and migrants through employment, has been able to relocate 420 people living in Roraima, near the border with Venezuela, to six other states in Brazil.

"I am grateful to the Catholic Church for its humanitarian mission, not only in this case but throughout the world," said Todd Chapman, U.S. ambassador to Brazil.

Chapman said that, since 2017, the U.S. government has invested more than $1 billion in the region to help Venezuelan refugees; $80 million of that was used in Brazil.