|Members of Holy Rosary Parish were among the volunteers who helped build the Pope Francis house for a Coptic Christian family of seven from Egypt. The build was made possible by an anonymous donor who gave $60,000 to Habitat and challenged the Catholic community to volunteer for the cause. Photo by Lisa Link
On a sunny fall afternoon on the outskirts of Nashville, six families from five different countries celebrated the dedication of their new Habitat for Humanity homes. Bishop David Choby and members of the Catholic community who helped two Coptic Christian families from Egypt build their homes attended the dedication and were eager to congratulate the new homeowners.
Those families will live alongside four other households from Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and the U.S. in the Hallmark subdivision in Antioch.
Altogether, volunteers from 10 parishes and four schools in the Diocese of Nashville worked alongside two families from Egypt for four weekends to construct and complete the homes, and their excitement at finishing this huge task together was palpable on dedication day, Sunday, Nov. 15, as volunteers and homeowners shared hugs and smiles.
“We are happy, happy, happy!” homeowner Lola Sadek said of the prospect of soon moving her family of seven from a two bedroom, bug-infested apartment into a brand new four bedroom Habitat home.
“Our life is going to be better when we will live in a good place,” she said, speaking through her daughter as a translator. “Thanks to Habitat and Pope Francis.”
Sadek and her husband Kamel Mina and their five children will be living in a house that was made possible through an anonymous donation to Habitat in honor of Pope Francis. The donor gave $60,000 to Habitat and challenged the Catholic community to step up and volunteer.
Having the funding in place from a donor enabled St. Ann Parish to get involved with the build. “We don’t have the cash but we have the hammers and the willingness to go out and help,” said St. Ann parishioner Grimes Baird, who has volunteered with Habitat for many years. “Thank you very much to Mr. (or Ms.) Anonymous for the wonderful gesture,” he said.
Along with St. Ann, members of Christ the King, Holy Rosary, St. Christopher, St. Ignatius, St. Mary, St. Matthew and St. Stephen parishes volunteered to work on the house, as did students from St. Cecilia Academy, Pope John Paul II and Father Ryan high schools, and Vanderbilt University. Other community volunteers also pitched in, including members of Green Hill Church.
|Sama, the youngest daughter of Kamel Mina and Lola Sadek, who will live in the “Pope Francis house,” smiles during the dedication ceremony for her family’s new home. The family of seven was living in a two bedroom apartment and is excited to have a four bedroom home of their own. Photo by Theresa Laurence
Being part of the Pope Francis build “was a wonderful experience and I’d do it again,” said Christian John, a Holy Rosary parishioner and Knight of Columbus. When his pastor, Father Mark Hunt, put out the call for volunteers, “I raised my hand and said ‘I’ll do it,’” John said. “It was the best thing I ever did.”
John, originally from Denmark, lived in Chicago for many years before moving to Nashville and retiring to be close to his grandchildren. He said working on the Pope Francis house has prompted him to reinvigorate a Habitat ministry at Holy Rosary. “I think it’s a cause that can pull the parish together.”
John and his wife Marilyn worked alongside homeowners Mina and Sadek and their fellow parishioners to install doors in the home as well as spackle and paint. John is already planning how to get a core group of Holy Rosary parishioners to commit to volunteering for Habitat in the future and feels confident that there’s enough interest. Nearly 30 volunteers from the parish were involved this round, and “everybody loved it,” he said.
|Monsour Boctor cuts the ribbon on his family’s new Habitat home on Sunday, Nov. 15 as his wife Sawsan Owayer, his children and Habitat volunteers cheer. The house was supported with financial and volunteer donations from Cathedral of the Incarnation, Christ the King, St. Edward and St. Stephen parishes. Photo by Theresa Laurence
Next door to the Pope Francis house, the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Christ the King, St. Edward, and St. Stephen parishioners donated time and money for the “Catholic build,” to help construct a house for Mansour Boctor, Sawsan Owayer and their four children.
“It has been a lot of work since last year, a lot of sweat equity,” said Owayer.
Habitat homeowners must meet rigorous requirements and put in “sweat equity” hours building their own home and neighbors’ homes and working in the Habitat ReStore retail outlets. They must take financial literacy classes and meet employment and income guidelines. Habitat homeowners then pay a zero-interest mortgage that fits within their income, usually around $600 a month. Priority is given to families who have been living in inappropriate, overcrowded and unaffordable housing situations.
Both families that the Catholic community assisted were living in too-small apartments, in complexes where they did not feel safe. Before arriving in the U.S. in 2011, both families faced unstable political situations in their home country of Egypt that spurred them to flee and resettle in Nashville.
|New Habitat for Humanity homeowner Mansour Boctor shakes hands with Bishop David Choby after the dedication ceremony for his family’s home on Sunday, Nov. 15 as his wife and children and Deacon Jim McKenzie of Cathedral of the Incarnation look on. Members of 10 parishes and four schools in the Diocese of Nashville volunteered to help build two homes for Coptic Christian families from Egypt as part of Habitat’s fall build. Photo by Theresa Laurence
Cathedral parish, which worked with the family of Boctor and Owayer, invited the family to church, which gave parishioners an opportunity to meet the people they were helping. “That connection with the family is important,” said Justin Southwick, the volunteer coordinator for Cathedral’s Habitat for Humanity ministry. “We make a conscious effort to connect the family’s story with … the freedom we have in this country. Our ancestors were in their position at one time.”
The Cathedral’s enthusiasm for this cause stems from “a Christian ethic of love for neighbor and concern for the poor,” Southwick said.
When the call was put out for volunteers for the Catholic community’s fall build, the response was so big that some people who wanted to help were turned away, Southwick said. “People feel like they are doing great work for a terrific cause.”
Participating in the Habitat for Humanity build “is just part of our faith,” said Jackie Smithson, development director at St. Edward Church, which participated in the Catholic build. Like Cathedral, St. Edward had more volunteer interest than they could accommodate at the build site, but parishioners chipped in in other ways. The third grade held a bake sale and staff members donated to a gift card to help the family buy appliances for their new home. “It was a really great experience all round,” Smithson said.
One reason Habitat gets such glowing reviews from volunteers is due to a sense of partnership they feel with the families they are assisting. “It’s a hand up, not a hand out,” Baird said.
Working alongside the homeowners and witnessing the hard work they put into their houses, and the pride they feel about their homes and neighborhood is rewarding, he added.
The efforts of all the volunteers will live on in the completed homes. “We can’t forget the faces, the people who painted and drilled,” homeowner Mansour Boctor said after the dedication. “Absolutely we are blessed. We couldn’t ask for more.”