A Village of Faiths

at 11:43 PM
Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

This article is more than 6 years old.

Christians, Jews and Muslims collaborating? Aren't they supposed to be enemies? Not on a hill outside Danville, at San Damiano Retreat Center. There, arranged by a Jewish resettlement agency, nine refugees have stayed over the last year thanks to a multi-faith circle of support.

This improbable cooperation began when Amy Weiss, who works at the agency, was losing sleep. Because of astronomical real estate, she had nowhere to house refugees. She does her work not because refugees are Jewish, but because Jewish people know the meaning of exile. When she sent out a desperate plea, transitional and emergency housing came from an unlikely source; a Catholic friary.

"We've got room!" Franciscan Brother Mike Minton responded. In the last year, he's discovered how refugees bring out the best humanity of all participants. Everyone stands taller: Episcopalians arranged transportation and free haircuts, Mormons donated from their food banks, and Muslims gave clothing. A Methodist minister who'd been making a retreat at the center donated money towards expenses. Later, her Protestant congregation prayed for Catholic Franciscans, in partnership with a Jewish agency, helping Middle-Easterners of various religions.

When a San Damiano employee saw the first resident lifting a laptop high and low around the grounds, she thought he was searching for a signal, and explained he could get WiFi in his room. The boy replied, "I'm Skyping with my mom, so she can see how safe I am." A Ugandan added: "This is the only place in my life I've been fed without expectations."

Current residents Jamal and Kalal fled Afghanistan 17 years ago when the Taliban targeted their family because their dad served in the army. The older brother wants to be a chef. The younger studies computers.


It's not idyllic: there've been some quarrels and mistrust. But as the world-wide refugee crisis worsens, brave pioneers in northern California are taking tentative steps forward.

With a Perspective, I'm Kathy Coffey.

Kathy Coffey recently made a Muslim-Christian retreat at San Damiano.