Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Refugees Gather for a Feast of Food; for Some, It Was Their First Thanksgiving in Adopted Country

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Refugees Gather for a Feast of Food; for Some, It Was Their First Thanksgiving in Adopted Country

Article excerpt

Byline: Charlie Patton

During what is widely recognized as America's first Thanksgiving, a group of refugees fleeing from religious persecution in England sat down with their new Native American neighbors to share a feast.

Saturday, a group of refugees fleeing some of the most oppressive governments around the world, gathered with their new Jacksonville neighbors for what has become our standard Thanksgiving feast: turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, a green bean casserole, a sweet potato casserole and some cranberry sauce. There was also ham and pork and some cranberry sauce. Then some pumpkin pie.

For many of the approximately 90 refugees who came to San Jose Catholic Church for the afternoon meal, Saturday marked their first Thanksgiving dinner.

The refugees had been brought to the Jacksonville by the Refugee Settlement Program of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Augustine.

For David Rojas, his wife, Carmen Gonzalez, and his son David Rojas Jr., Saturday's feast was his second celebration of America's Thanksgiving. The refugees from Venezuela arrived in Jacksonville last Nov. 15 and attended Catholic Charities' Thanksgiving celebration at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church less than two weeks later.

The food was different.

"We don't eat much turkey in Venezuela," Rojas said, adding that eating cranberry sauce for the first time was a novel but pleasant experience.

He said he likes the story of the original Thanksgiving, the tale of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans peacefully sharing a meal together, which he called "a lesson for all of us."

That's why he was back at Catholic Charities' Thanksgiving celebration for a second time, calling it a chance "for people from different countries to meet and share peace."

As the food was being served and eaten, he and his wife sang Venezuelan songs while he played the Venezuelan national instrument, the four-stringed quatro (sometimes spelled cuatro).

For some of the volunteers from San Jose Catholic Church, the work of preparing the feast began at 3 a. …

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