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Ottawa Catholics hear how they can help refugees

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Representatives from parishes across the Ottawa archdiocese came to the diocesan centre Sept. 24 to find out how they can help sponsor Syrian refugees.

Ottawa’s Episcopal Vicar for Pastoral Services Rev. Geoff Kerslake told the gathering of about 40 people the number of people requiring help is “mind blowing.” Even if the government increases the number of refugees by 10 times or 20 times, it “will only be a drop in the bucket,” he said.

Some parishes have already been involved in sponsoring one or more families, he said. Some parishes have assisted families who had the ability to support their relatives, but were working through the parishes to get help in the sponsorship process.

Parishes can also sponsor individuals, which is less complex from a logistical point of view, he said. Parishes can also co-operate together to help sponsor refugees.

“The biggest issue isn’t the money,” Kerslake said. “Catholics in Ottawa are very generous. The issue in our parishes is not the raising of $30,000; the big issue is getting a core committee of six to eight people who will look after the logistics of getting the family settled.”

This includes finding them a place to live, furniture, clothing, getting the children registered in school, help with grocery shopping, teaching them how to get around the city, help with obtaining government documents, employment and other matters.

The Ottawa archdiocese has prepared several permanent deacons who will help with the “significant amount of paperwork” involved in sponsorship, Kerslake said. “This makes it easier to get the ball rolling.”

Karen Mahoney of the Catholic Centre for Immigration said the refugees who come to Canada are already screened for medical and security reasons. “All of this is taken care of by the visa office,” she said.

“What a message of solidarity, compassion and evangelization we would show if every parish sponsored a refugee family,” she said.

The Ottawa archdiocese is the Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) with the government, but the parishes take on the responsibility for sponsoring refugees under this agreement, said Julie Salach Simard, also of the Catholic Immigration Centre. The federal government has promised to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees by September 2016, instead of 2017, while still fulfilling its commitment to Iraqis. Simard said the government expects to issue 4,000 new visas before the end of 2015.

It has taken parishes from 15 to even 60 months in one case, to see their refugee family on Canadian soil, but Simard estimated the waiting time could be reduced to eight months.

The parish is responsible for providing support equivalent to the government assisted rate for refugees for one year, which varies according to the number of people in the family, she said. The families will get the child tax benefit and quality for OHIP.

Parishes may specify they want to help a Christian refugee family, she said. “Three families came to us through relatives in our Catholic community and through a contact we have with an overseas monastery,” Simard said.

“I saw myself with my eyes what happened when ISIS or jihad captured a city and killed the Christians there,” said a Syrian refugee present in the audience. He pointed out many families of the jihadist terrorists are also in the UN refugee camps. Because Christians face persecution there, Christians are not found in the UN refugee camps. “Christians are suffering there and nobody helps us,” he said.

Simard said she gets a lot of calls from family members with relatives who are displaced in Syria, but unfortunately refugee sponsorship only applies to those who have fled outside the country.

She said she has seven new Syrian refugee families awaiting sponsorship — most are families of four; one is a family of five.
“We will come and do training,” she said, promising parishes and groups of parishes support throughout the process.

“It is not just the refugees who benefit,” she said. “It builds community in your parish.”

Kerslake also urged Catholics not to forget those refugees and displaced peoples who either do not wish to leave or can’t leave the Middle East. Presenters from the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) were on hand to explain other ways to help persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Kerslake pointed out the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, CCODP, CNEWA and Aid to the Church in Need are collaborating in a first-ever joint fundraising campaign.

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