By Antoniette Pace, Lay Pastoral Assistant, St. Benedict Church, Etobicoke, ON
(Etobicoke, ON – September 22) – It began as an idea by a volunteer. Soon after, the same idea was shared by another volunteer in a separate and unrelated conversation. The idea: a newcomer reunion. And why not, since our Salesian parish of St. Benedict completes the sponsorship of its tenth newcomer family this year. With minimal planning and great enthusiasm, an evening newcomer potluck dinner was set in motion for Saturday, April 6, 2019. It was certainly an occasion to celebrate!
Invited were the newcomer families originally from Iraq, Syria, Ivory Coast, and Eritrea. St. Benedict welcomed our first family, Ahlam Jonah, and her three daughters in April 2013; our two most recent newcomer families, Jan and Marie and Mikhaeil and Terez, arrived in May 2018. While some families live close to St. Benedict in Etobicoke (a Toronto suburb) and remain active in the life of the parish, others have resettled in Brampton, Markham, and Woodbridge.
The gathering was, in true Salesian style, a spirit-filled and playful family event that included an abundance of delicious homemade cultural foods, fun and games for the kids, family photos and, to complete the evening, a piñata with plenty of treats to go around. Besides tasty culinary dishes, our newcomers share an even more valued gift: a wholesome sense of family across the generations: grandparents, parents, and children. Particularly special that evening was the joyful welcome of baby Andrea, daughter of Kameel and Arij, born in March 2019. And as big brother Fikrab and little sister Batel played with their many new friends, their father, Berhane, beamed as he shared news of the birth of his son, Suraphel only two days earlier. A simple glance around the room or through the casual conversation that evening revealed that there was so much more being celebrated: lives saved, families able to sleep at night, families reunited, growing language skills, advancements in education and employment, giving back to the community and others in need.
In good number, too, at our gathering was the army of volunteers that helped with the various sponsorships and co-sponsorships. Many were from St. Benedict Parish, but some came from other parishes including Barb and Grant Evers from St. Roch and Franca Gallucci from All Saints. Also present were volunteers, Rita Perta and Vicky Ton representing others from St. Justin Martyr parish, Markham, who in 2015 took it upon themselves to resettle Fiacre and Diana in Markham. Their enthusiastic initiative and leadership in that sponsorship with the St. Benedict resettlement committee provide a beautiful model of how one parish could work collaboratively with another sponsoring parish in the important year-long process of resettlement. Truly the work of resettlement is not possible without the heart and hands of many generous volunteers. For them, we are very grateful! Their selfless participation in welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating refugees incarnates Pope Francis’s appeal in this year’s message for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees: “Through [refugees], the Lord is calling us to conversion, to be set free from exclusivity, indifference, and the throwaway culture. Through them, the Lord invites us to embrace fully our Christian life and to contribute, each according to his or her proper vocation, to the building up of a world that is more and more in accord with God’s plan.”
Completing our gathering was Deacon Rudy Ovcjak, director of ORAT (Office for Refugees, Archdiocese of Toronto), and Louise Leung, ORAT’s outreach assistant. We were grateful to have them with us to remind us of the competent and guiding presence they and their colleagues continue to be to our parish resettlement committee. They remind us of where it all began: with unseen groundwork such as the mission trips to refugee camps in countries of refuge, in-person interviews with refugee families on the ground, meetings with immigration and government officials, paperwork, sponsorship files, orientation sessions, and more than we’ll ever know. Is it any wonder why our newcomer reunion of 10 families was a special occasion to celebrate!
Motivated by the lifesaving and life-giving mission that we partake in as collaborators in the work of resettlement and affirmed by the dignity restored to our newcomer friends, we pray for and look forward to the arrival of the next newcomer who will be reunited with one of our families. Celebrating ten and counting!
The Resettlement Process: How does it work?
Locally, ORAT serves as a Sponsorship Agreement Holder with the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). By way of information sessions and ongoing training, ORAT educates and guides resettlement volunteers from parishes throughout the archdiocese as to the sponsorship process. This includes the application, the settlement plan, and the integration process. Through the stages that precede arrival in Canada, the resettlement volunteer remains in direct contact with the refugees in their country of refuge.
Once a sponsorship application is approved by ORAT and completed by the sponsoring parish resettlement group, ORAT, as the Sponsorship Agreement Holder, submits the resettlement application to Immigration Canada according to the available spots allocated for refugee submissions set annually by Immigration Canada.
Upon arrival at the Toronto airport in Canada, the former refugee, now called ‘newcomer,’ is welcomed by government officials who process her permanent residence status and Social Insurance Number (SIN), enabling her to work immediately. Parish volunteers greet, the newcomer at the airport and members of the parish resettlement committee welcome and accompany her through the various stages of the year-long sponsorship: temporary and permanent housing, furnishing the home with in-kind donations from parishioners (furniture, small appliances, household items, and clothing) enrollment in community language and job training programs, children’s enrollment in school, resumé writing and job hunting, arranging dentist and medical appointments, grocery shopping, and budgeting.
St. Benedict Parish has been actively involved in the resettlement process since 2010. That year, in response to a national initiative spearheaded by the Toronto Archdiocese called “One Parish-One Family” to assist Iraqi refugees most in need, Cardinal Thomas Collins, our archbishop, issued a letter encouraging each parish to sponsor one refugee family. Responding to the call, in August 2010 our parish undertook the sponsorship of our first family from Iraq. Over the past nine years, St. Benedict Parish has joyfully welcomed ten families, 38 people in all. Presently, there are five single sponsorship applications in process.
Cost of Sponsorship
Sponsorship costs vary depending on the size and composition of the family. ORAT offers sponsorship costs based on the national average of financial assistance provided to government-assisted refugees. These figures assist the sponsoring group in estimating the cost involved in sponsoring a refugee family for 12 months. The current sponsorship costs are listed in the chart below. Donations, large and small, in support of our ongoing sponsorships are most welcome. Cheques may be made payable to St. Benedict Church/ 2194 Kipling Ave. / Etobicoke, ON, M9W 4K9 / Attention: Resettlement Committee