SASKATOON — Helping parishes and other groups navigate the complex process of private refugee sponsorship is the role of Sofia Berumen, the new co-ordinator of the Office of Migration in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
It is work pioneered by the late Rev. Paul Donlevy, who established the diocese as a government-recognized Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH), approved to co-ordinate the private sponsorship of refugees. At that time it was to help those fleeing from war and violence in southeast Asia.
The diocesan Migration Office was later established at the Catholic Pastoral Centre with a legacy from the Donlevy family, and has continued with support from Holy Spirit Parish and the Bishop’s Annual Appeal.
Berumen follows in the footsteps of the late Ellen Erickson and former co-ordinator Christine Zyla in reaching out to refugees and those helping them settle in Canada. She is assisted part-time by Robyn Kondratowicz.
Berumen says she is delighted to have an opportunity to put her faith into action in this new role. Extending welcome and support to those who are fleeing danger, persecution, violence, and war is a way of living the Gospel imperative to “welcome the stranger” (Mt. 25:35), she says. “As a Catholic, I have a wonderful, warm feeling in seeing how the diocese has established this office and is actively doing this work.”
Berumen is familiar with some of the challenges of being a newcomer, and dealing with cross-cultural communication. Originally from Mexico, she studied communication with a specialty in education at Iteso University in the city of Tlaquepaque in western Mexico, earning a BA and working toward a master’s degree in the communication of science and culture. She went to Barcelona, Spain, for post-graduate studies in cultural management and culture policies, and then to Toulouse, France for hands-on language and cultural studies.
“I have worked in two main areas: co-ordinating communication (mainly for the cultural sector, non-profits, community services), and as a university lecturer (teaching communication theory, cultural studies or written communication).”
When Berumen came to Canada in 2014, she worked with the Open Door Society as an interpreter. “That is when I began to learn more about the refugee issue, to understand the problems and challenges they face.”
Co-ordinating the Office of Migration is a way of bringing all that experience to bear, and to serve as a bridge for newcomers.
Private refugee sponsorship is a complex undertaking, with many policies and forms to navigate. It is a long, arduous process, and it can take years. The need is enormous and resources are limited, and it can be heartbreaking at times when the office is not able to help someone, Berumen adds.
Once a refugee family arrives, the sponsoring parish or group is committed to meeting its needs for at least a year — financially, medically, socially, and emotionally.
“There are many areas where a volunteer can help,” says Berumen, noting that she hopes to encourage more volunteers to get involved. In doing so, it is vital to provide support, training, and resources.
Sponsorship committees in the Diocese of Saskatoon have done amazing work over the years, says Berumen. Sharing that expertise with others who are just getting started in the process, and bringing in protocols and support that will help all sponsorship groups with complex challenges is a priority for the new co-ordinator.
Her ideas include recruiting a group of volunteers with expertise in particular areas, whom sponsoring groups could consult when needed. This might include nurses, doctors, counsellors or lawyers, she suggests. “Sometimes we are not ready to face people with stress or trauma. We are not counsellors, but we can get help to identify those cases and refer them properly.”
Plans to clarify roles and expectations will be helpful for both sponsoring groups and newcomers. Developing guidelines and protocols can assist in making the experience a positive one for everyone.
“This is where I hope to help.”
Berumen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.