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Home : Special Features : Immigration
8/3/2010 2:36:00 PM
An African family finds peace in Oregon
Catholic News Service photo
African migrants sit on a ship awaiting entry into Spain.
Catholic News Service photo
African migrants sit on a ship awaiting entry into Spain.
Ed Langlois
Of the Catholic Sentinel

The government, which he had so long served, wanted him dead.

Felix, whose name has been changed to protect him, was an influential prosecutor in a central African nation. His scruples in rooting out corruption made him an enemy of the country's leader.

When death squads came to Felix's home, he was not there.

Felix quickly packed up his wife and five children several years ago and fled for America under the protection of the U.S. This devout Catholic family is now part of a Portland-area parish.

Felix, 46, had traveled to the Northwest some years before and found it "quiet and friendly and good."

The family of seven lives in a two-bedroom apartment near a shopping mall. They walk everywhere, including to church. Their African house was much larger, but they are delighted to be in the United States.

The gregarious 14-year-old son describes his household this way: "The coolest family ever."

The children's favorite American foods are pasta and gum. The 8-year-old son has some reservations, saying it seems to rain a lot in America.

"The biggest difference for me in this country is that, when we are here, we are in peace," says Felix. "We are free. It is a big country where people are friendly and there are many opportunities for kids to study."

Felix and Maggie grew up Catholic and want their children to attend Catholic schools. Jesus, they say, is important to education.

"We received this gift from our parents," Felix says, indicating how important he considers it to pass on the treasure.

Catholic missionaries from Europe taught Felix. He was an acolyte as a boy and a sacristan as an adult. His great-uncle is a priest.

"For my children I like them to study more, to know a lot of things about God," Felix says. His great dream is that they will be useful for their new country, that they will know how to share and how to love.

The older children, teen boys, proudly wear rosaries around their necks.    

"It's a symbol of our God; it's like God is with you," says a son who will be in seventh grade in the fall. "For us, church is like home."

The parish is struggling to help the family pay tuition for Catholic schooling. That will cost about $18,000 per year.

Felix is now attending college to improve his own English. He hopes to earn an American college degree and eventually be accepted to law school here so he can one day support his family again as a practicing attorney.In addition to his legal work, Felix taught college in his native country.

Catholicism in Oregon is a welcome reminder of home for this family so far from their origins.  

"When I go to church, it's the same," Felix explains.

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