Viator House of Hospitality and its counterpart, Bethany House of Hospitality, are drawing national attention for their mission to accompany young men and women immigrants while they seek asylum. Their models are seen as an alternative to detaining these young people or sending them to shelters while they wait out their cases.
Still, Monday’s visit from Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin — the second highest ranking Democrat in the Senate — was a thrill.
“Thank you, Sen. Dick Durbin, for taking the time today to visit with staff and participants from our house and Bethany House of Hospitality,” said Fr. Corey Brost, CSV, Executive Director. “Your willingness to take our young participants’ stories of struggle and success to Congress and the White House means so much.”
The visit from Illinois’ senior senator came about in an extraordinary way. Last year, Associate Jason Wilhite, then a Campus Minister at Saint Viator High School, worked with students on an advocacy project as part of the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, the largest annual Catholic social justice conference in this country.
As part of their advocacy project, they dove into immigration issues — especially those facing migrant children — which led them to study the work done at Viator House of Hospitality.
They then arranged a virtual meeting with Durbin’s Chicago staff to advocate for policies that compassionately welcome migrant children. Because of that meeting — and students advocating for young asylum seekers — Sen. Durbin’s staff seemed interested in learning more about VHH and Bethany House of Hospitality.
In a thank you email, Jason Wilhite suggested they visit. Remarkably, on Monday, Sen Durbin came. He toured the house, learned about all of its services and then spoke with participants, including one from Bethany House and two from Viator House, including one from West Africa and one from Central America.
According to Fr. Corey, Sen. Durbin, asked them about life in the house, about what it is like waiting years for their cases to be resolved, and about their hopes and dreams. He told them how impressed he was by their strength, resolve and accomplishments — one of the guys he talked to is training to be a nurse.
“He made it clear how much he thinks they are gifts to the United States,” Fr. Corey added.
As part of their conversation Sen. Durbin said his staff would be available to advocate for participants if their cases seem “stuck” or “lost” in the system. He voiced his strong support of how both houses prepare young people to live safely and successfully in the U.S.
“We urged him to start a congressional conversation about establishing more houses of hospitality in this country that do our work,” Fr. Corey added. “We urged him to advocate with the president and his Senate colleagues against possible changes in asylum policies that would make it more difficult for people to seek asylum.”
In reflecting back on this rare visit from one of the leaders in Congress, Fr. Corey described it as a “remarkably Viatorian event.”
“It came about because a Viatorian associate learned how to advocate for Catholic values as a Saint Viator High School student, and then trained the next generation of students to do the same,” Fr. Corey said. “Jason’s commitment to teach what he learned resulted in the first conversation with Durbin’s office.”