The situation of Syrian refugees leaves no one indifferent. A number of congregations of women and men religious have become actively involved in many ways: welcoming refugees to Canada, sponsoring families, helping out with first necessities, involvement with aid groups, dioceses and parishes, financial support, etc.
A survey was made amongst the CRC’s members so as to learn more about their response to this crisis. We present a summary of the information received.
Jesuits in English Canada
“The Jesuit-run parishes in St. John’s, Halifax, Toronto, Guelph and Winnipeg are sponsoring refugee families. Our pre-secondary and secondary schools in St. John’s, Montreal, Winnipeg and Regina have been engaging in various acts of solidarity. One of our NGOs, Canadian Jesuits International, is channeling gifts to the Jesuit Refugee Service in Syria, and has held various informative public events on the situation in Syria, including presentations by a few Syrian Jesuits.”
Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ)
“Besides the on-going daily ministry with refugees at the FCJ Refugee Centre in Toronto, the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ) have recently initiated another project in Calgary.” Open and download this article:
Refugee Project – Calgary
“At St. Joseph’s College, Edmonton, the Basilian Fathers and the Faithful Companions of Jesus are having the great pleasure of collaborating with energetic laypeople, to sponsor three groups of Syrian Refugees: two families, four and six in size, and two young men. The volunteers are organized into three teams with roughly one hundred laypeople working alongside the Religious. Everyone is benefiting from this wonderful endeavor. The Syrians are safe and rebuilding their lives. The volunteers are forming new friendships and learning about the struggles of the marginalized.”
In Toronto, the Basilian Fathers have set up a Trust Fund to sponsor children of refugees in CSB High Schools.
Grey Sisters of Pembroke: Forever engaged with the world!
“Since the mid-1700s, the “Grey Nuns,” daughters of St. Marguerite d’Youville, have been living their call to “reveal God’s love in a life of service.” Like so many who were overwhelmed by the sight of Syrian refugees fleeing the danger and deprivation of their homeland, our Sisters wanted to respond. While the community no longer had the capacity to sponsor a refugee family (as they did during Ottawa’s “Project 4000” for the Vietnamese “boat people”), they could help others to do so.
The call went out, and the response was immediate. Some Sisters helped through their local parish, several of whom are sponsoring Syrian refugees to Canada; some donated the work of their hands (art work and a hand-made quilt); others gave out of their monthly budgets or gift money.
The sisters could direct their contributions to any of three groups: Romero House in Toronto (who will be sponsoring at least two Syrian families and has been engaged in refugee resettlement work for the past 25 years); Canadian Jesuits International (which supports the work of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon); or the World Food Program (which is struggling to meet the urgent food needs of close to six million displaced people in Syria and in neighbouring countries).
The community promised to add $2 for every dollar the Sisters contributed. The project, which has had a truly generous response, continues until the end of January.”
Sisters of Charity of St. Louis of Western Canada
“With the closing of our community in OLiver, BC, we had a house available in the early summer of 2015. At the same time the Parish was considering sponsoring a Syrian family. We have thus joined with the Parish of Christ the King and offered them the house for the family, for a minimal rent. Several other churches in the town have joined in the partnership to sponsor this family. The family of 5 arrived in early December. (See article on the Oliver, BC website – http://www.oliverchronicle.com/oliver-bound-syrian-family-arriving-monday/)
We have also been involved with housing Tibetan Refugees since February 2014. One of our houses in Calgary has separate suites and we have made one of these suites available for 2 Tibetan women at a time. The women come first and make preparations for their families to follow. They have a wonderful support system with the local Tibetan community who help them settle; find jobs and other permanent housing after their stay with us for 3 months. To date we have welcomed 20 women and been blessed by their presence.
In the past, we have had similar responses as communities have had the space, or when we have had an empty house. We have responded to various requests that have come to us from the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society to help house single women, and in years past to house other refugee families.”
Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul
“The Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul decided to support the efforts of a local charity called “Save a Family from Syria”. This registered charity was formed by Four Rivers Presbytery of the United Church and the Islamic Society of Kingston. We made a sizeable donation to support one family from Syria with 4 children. We also collected donations from the Sunday Faith Community that worships at our Motherhouse.
We donated furniture as needed to this charity to support the two families that have already arrived in Kingston. The plan is to continue bringing as many families as possible. We appointed a Sister of Providence to sit on the Steering Committee of Save a Family from Syria to keep us informed of any needs and developments.”
Spiritans (in Toronto)
“Ongoing support for St. Joseph’s Parish, Refugee Outreach Program, Brottier Refugee Services.”
Redemptorists (in Toronto)
“Sponsorship of Paskatni Family and sponsoship with St. Patrick’s Church.
Sisters of Sion
Individual sisters and communities are involved in their cities through their parishes and community groups. In Toronto, financial support of a family of four; involved with sponsorship at Our Lady of Lourdes; educating oneself about Islam.
Sisters of St. Martha of Antigonish
“One of the ways in which we have responded to the Syrian refugee crisis is to make an empty house available.” View the story by Canadian Press:
“The Tri-Heart Society is made up of three parishes in Antigonish County that have grouped together, St. Andrew’s, Heatherton and Giants Lake, to sponsor a refugee family to live in St. Andrew’s. They are working through the Archdiocese of Halifax. They asked us if we would consider renting the Convent to this family for a year. We ended our Ministry in St. Andrew’s and have had the house on the Market since last summer. We made the decision to take the house off the market for six months hoping that this Society would be successful in bringing in a family before Christmas.
Not long after, the Archdiocese of Halifax who is the Sponsorship Agreement Holder, called and asked Tri-Heart if their Society would consider sponsoring a Syrian family of six- mother, father and four children, ages 16, 13, 7 and 6. They had 48 hours to let them know. The fact that they had a house available created some speedy results. They were delighted to share this news with us. We are delighted that this former Martha home will once again be a home for this family.
We are exploring other ways in which we can support efforts, particularly in the communities where we live and minister.”
Sisters of Providence of Western Canada
“The Sisters of Providence of Western Canada along with the Ursulines of Jesus and the Carmelites of Western Canada have sponsored a family of three. They are now settled in an apartment not far from here. We have provided them with all their necessities. We have also received financial assistance and help with the furnishings, toys and new clothing, etc.
We invite them over for meals and friendship. Matilda speaks both English and French and Pascal is learning and the little girl who is 3 also is learning English and French and speaks quite well. We are paying for Matilda to get her pharmacy license here in Canada. Pascal, also a pharmacist will attempt the test as well once his English is stronger.”
Sisters of Service of Canada
“The Community has responded to the refugee crisis by making a major donation to the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Project Hope Campaign. The money collected in this campaign will be given to parishes in the diocese that will be sponsoring refugees. At this time in the history of the Sisters of Service, the majority of our small Community resides in Toronto. We have been invited by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto to collaborate with them, if possible, in the practical work of sponsoring two Syrian families. While our spirits are willing, it is not definite whether any sisters will actually be able to be involved.”
“This collaboration between religious communities might be a model for other cities. As we age, we can pool our human resources to respond to great needs which resonate with our charisms. Individual religious who are active in parishes could participate with parish members in sponsoring refugees.”
Ursulines Sisters of Chatham
“The main way that the Ursulines of Chatham have responded to the Syrian refugees was to collaborate with parishes in the area and we were delighted to welcome a family of 7 just before Christmas. Depending on the skills, health and energy of community members, sisters have contributed in a variety of ways along with local parish members. The assistance required includes but is not limited to the following activities:
Organizing work groups
Being a contact with the family members for doctors, dentists, schools, employment opportunities
Finding and preparing suitable living accommodations
Collecting house supplies, clothing, furniture, linens etc.
Driving and accompanying family members to various appointments
Introducing family members to the community at large and to individuals/groups with the same language and faith background
Organizing child care when necessary and connecting the family with ESL resources
Providing tutoring if appropriate
Arranging welcoming events to introduce the family to the community at large/ parish community/ neighbourhood.
In addition to involvement directly with family and helping collect resources for the family, we are sponsoring a variety of educational opportunities for the public to allow people to learn more about the teachings of Islam and the contemporary challenges faced by Muslims today, especially Muslim women. These public events will involve individual speakers and interactive panels of speakers. We are committed to providing material resources and prayerful support.”
Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada
“The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada is involved in several ways. The refugees whom we assist come from many other countries as well as from Syria. We have a long history of working with refugees who arrive in various cities and towns across Ontario. In London, Hamilton and Peterborough we are working through the Diocesan offices for Refugees. These dioceses are sponsorship agreement holders for sponsoring refugees.
Sisters in Hamilton have actively sponsored refugees from Eretria and awaiting a family from Myanmar. In Peterborough, the Congregation owns three refugee houses which are operated by an advisory board as Casa Maria Refugee Homes. A Sister is the Director and other Sisters are volunteers as well as other men and women. They provide assistance to the many other groups in the diocese (parishes and other groups) who want to sponsor a family. They assist them in finding refugees to sponsor and with completing the required paperwork.
At our larger residences (in London, Hamilton Pembroke) we are open to accepting a family or individual for temporary housing until a sponsoring group secures an apartment or other permanent accommodation. In Windsor one of our houses has been dedicated as transitional housing residence to be able to receive some refugees in need of temporary housing. In Cobourg a cottage on our property is set aside to accommodate the arrival of a family for temporary housing.
Sisters also work in places such as Leamington with other ecumenical groups as a volunteer in their community sponsorship. In some locations our Sisters are chairs or co-chairs of a parish group that is sponsoring refugees. In some places other groups look to the Sisters to share their experience and knowledge with them.
The Congregation is giving considerable financial support as well for the cause of refugees. We have been impressed by the number of spontaneous intercessions offered at liturgy for refugees, migrants, those fleeing oppression and torture. So the praying community is actively engaged as well. All in all our Sisters are “stepping up to the plate” to respond.”
Other religious congregations have mentioned that their members and communities are actively involved in their cities and communities through their parishes, community groups and refugee aid groups. Sisters have volunteered to assist with English lessons. Congregations have offered furniture and household supplies. Significant donations were made to Development and Peace. As a whole, congregations have been supporting a ‘welcoming spirit’, within their communities and in their encounters with others.
Scarboro Missions (In Toronto)
Sponsorship of an African refugee and donation to Development and Peace.
“At the December 1, 2015, meeting of the Board of Directors for Becoming Neighbours, a Syrian journalist living in Toronto, Ghalia Bdiwe, spoke with the members of the board.” Open and download the presentation: Presentation of GHALIA BDIWE
At that December Board meeting, writes Peter McKenna, SCJ, each congregation shared how in Toronto they are individually responding to the Syrian refugees. Each of them is responding according to their capacity and according to their charism. For example, the Basilians set up an educational trust; the Sisters of Sion want to do an education forum on Islam. Each congregation also contributed financially and invited their members to contribute from his/her personal budget and that amount would be matched by the general administration. This allowed each sister/priest/brother to become involved. It resulted in a conversion of the heart and a deep desire to respond to what Syrian refugees were experiencing translating it into action.
The congregations have been involved in collecting furniture for the two Syrian families sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph. The Sisters of St. Joseph have close to 50 sisters from various religious congregations involved all at different degrees in sponsoring their two refugee families. The 50 sisters include members from at least six different congregations.
Also, at that board meeting as well, we also set up an ad hoc work group to see how we could collaboratively respond. Since December, Becoming Neighbours have had two meetings of the work group and have set up two workshops: one held on January 13 and one to be held on March 06. Open these two PDF documents: Muslim Education Conversation Flyer; ESL Workshop, March 6, 2016. There were approximately 65 participants at the January 13 workshop and there were a huge number of retired sisters residing at the CSJ Community Residence listening on close circuit. Ghalia used a YouTube video story as her backdrop to her presentation. You may view it at: https://www.facebook.com/Syrian.Revolution/videos/10156503661845727/?pnref=story
Becoming Neighbours is focusing also on education, providing workshops with others to learn more about the Islam culture and reality, workshops to help their members engage in one to one ESL conversations and ongoing workshops teasing out the details of welcoming and accompanying people. It is truly bringing out the best in all of us, concludes Peter McKenna, SCJ.”
Donations to different groups: A number of religious congregations made a sgnificant donations to different groups such as Development and Peace, local refugee sponsors who have charitable status, Romero House in Toronto, Canadian Jesuits International, World Food Program, the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Project Hope Campaign.