Young Karenni Catholics, once refugees, hit the road for a retreat

(NCR Online) Around 30 Karenni Catholic young adults, ages 15-23, gather around Fr. Shiareh Marino in the parking lot of a Phoenix apartment complex Aug. 31. They look like any other young Americans with smartphones and earbuds, listening to Burmese or American pop music, watching Korean drama or comedy shows, or playing games.

Marino, in his 30s, asks for their attention and prays for a safe trip for the group. They are traveling in two passenger vans for more than 1,000 miles to Rogers, Arkansas, for their fourth annual retreat, held Sept. 2-3. The program, organized by the Karenni-American Catholic Association, includes spiritual talks, Mass, prayers, music and dancing.

“We were singing all night to keep our driver awake,” one of the girls said later at a gas station in the middle of the night. Some, with sleepy eyes, came out of the store with assorted munchies that mothers would frown upon. The Arizona landscape disappeared into darkness as the pilgrims dozed off, lulled by the faint hum of the tires on the road while their vans headed into New Mexico.

Less than 10 years ago, all of these Karenni young adults were languishing in refugee camps in Thailand. Many of them were born in camps in Mae Hong Son, Thailand’s western province. The camps, located in the steep mountains on the border of a malaria-infested jungle, had hundreds of bamboo huts spread everywhere. [More]


NCR Online