Brother Charles Warthen, now in his 25th year in Virginia Beach, remains an active member of the Church of the Holy Family through its vibrant social ministry program. In addition to his participation in the parish Haiti Twinning program and concern with the local homeless via the Norfolk Catholic Worker, and his active involvement in the parish Prison Reform committee, he is recently supporting Afghan emigres.
The parish is one of two in the diocese of over 140 parishes, to “adopt” Afghan refugees who were “sponsored” by the local Commonwealth Catholic Charities in Newport News, VA. Of these refugees, six young Afghan men who are assisted in travel to ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, as well as job search (all are employed) and other typical daily chores, such as shopping. Their command of English is spotty, but it is a joy to hear them enthusiastically chatting and laughing on their phones with friends and family in Afghanistan and enjoying their pictures.
“Our role is merely transportation, driving them from their ESL class several days a week to their apartment which has been provided by Catholic Charities,” said Brother Charles Warthen. “We also drive them to and from work as needed. All have income and send funds back home to Afghanistan.”
Brother Charles described the young men as “most respectful” and “showing genuine friendship and consistent good spirits.” Part of the transportation ministry includes a stop at the grocery store and sometimes a Mediterranean food store where their language, Farsi, Pashtun or Dari, is used. These young men, age 22-32, are most generous, often offering their drivers food they have bought.
“Their sense of hospitality is admirable,” stated Brother Charles. “Recently we observed the 32nd birthday of one, a former translator for our military and with the best command of English. We provided a birthday cake, wrapped gifts, and all sang Happy Birthday. They provided the music on their listening devices. Three of the four are married and with family and show with pride phone pictures of their loved ones at home.”
As young men emerge from their classes, greeting Brother Charles with firm embraces and sa’laam aleichem, (our Hello!). They pile into the car, laughing and chatting and on to their phones to contact friends and loved ones a world away.
“It is a most satisfying and rewarding relationship with what the Xaverian charism calls identification with the marginalized and homeless,” Brother Charles said. “This personal contact in our little plot of the globe is literally a daily blessing in our too often indifferent and violent world, a reason for daily thanksgiving to our generous God.”