SASKATOON — For some newcomers to our increasingly multicultural community, their story begins with being forced to leave their country of origin. Participants in the Diocese of Saskatoon’s Justice and Outreach Year (JOY) of Formation immersed themselves in the refugee story Oct. 15, spending the day at the Saskatoon Open Door Society.
Dana Krushel, Migration and Resettlement co-ordinator at the Mennonite Central Committee, led an activity that brought into focus what being a displaced person is like. Participants were asked to visit simulation stations, such as border crossings, where they were presented with the sorts of decisions that many face during times of conflict and migration. Difficult decisions challenged participants with how to maintain resources such as food, money and health while attempting to secure safe passage. This simulation offered a glimpse into life as a refugee and set the foundation for the rest of the day.
Through the Office of Migration, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon operates as a refugee sponsorship agreement holder, working with parishes and other groups to assist refugees seeking safety in our community. Many dedicated volunteers at the parish level offer their time and talent to undertake and to assist with refugee sponsorships. Volunteer Sheila Flory, co-chair of the Refugee Committee at St. Philip Neri Parish in Saskatoon, facilitated a session for JOY participants, sharing numerous accounts of the partnerships that occur between parishioners and refugee families.
“I find working with the refugee committee very fulfilling work,” said Flory. “We are so blessed, living in Canada, and I love giving other people a chance to start a new life.”
Learning how to settle and thrive in a new home country is what all newcomers experience once they arrive. The mission of Saskatoon’s Open Door Society is to “assist newcomers to Canada to become participating members of an inclusive and diverse community and country.”
Facilitators Roberta Desnomie and Farrukh Syeer of the Open Door Society described various ways people from different countries of origin may communicate (or miscommunicate) given their cultural and behavioural norms. Inclusivity and integration is a large part of the newcomer story, participants learned.
Sharing his own experience as a refugee from Syria, sponsored through the Diocese of Saskatoon and settling into life as a newcomer, Jad Rehan gave JOY participants the gift of his story as the day’s final presenter.
Rehan showed pictures of his home town in Syria before and after the bombing that forced him and his family to flee. He shared what it was like to be uprooted, displaced and in need of a safe place to live. Having arrived only eight months ago, the optimistic young man now leads a full life as a student, employee and community volunteer. Rehan’s older brother and sister-in-law have also been sponsored through the diocese and he is anxiously awaiting their arrival.
With hearts and minds moved by the refugee story as it is experienced from various vantage points, J.O.Y. participants concluded the day with celebration of the Eucharist and a community supper at St. Paul’s parish, recognizing that “our common story is that we are all loved by God, we are all deserving of safety and there is room at the table for all of us.”
JOY is a diocesan program running from September to June in which participants coming together once a month to focus on issues of social justice, visit local service-based agencies, and work alongside people who experience life on the margins.