OOE Churches Bring Syrian Families to Ottawa


On Feb. 18, members of Canadian Martyrs and Sagrada Familia parishes in Old Ottawa East stood behind a wide greeting banner with Arabic writing to welcome a young couple from Daraa in southern Syria.

The newcomers were the second of two Syrian refugee families the church communities are sponsoring.

The first family, from the town of Khabab in the same region in Syria, had arrived Feb. 5 to a similar reception. They and their five children are now settled in an apartment in Overbrook and the children have started classes at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Elementary School and Lester B. Pearson High.

Daraa was one of the early centres of the Arab Spring uprising in Syria. The city and neighbouring towns such as Khabab were the scenes of bitter fighting by both the rebel forces and the Syrian army. Minorities such as Christians and Shiites, subjected to attacks and displacement by both sides, have fled in large numbers to nearby Lebanon and Jordan.

Encouraged by Father Jim Fiori, its new pastor, Canadian Martyrs parish decided last August to work with the Catholic Centre for Immigrants to sponsor a refugee family.

A parish survey showed such overwhelming enthusiasm for the idea and so many members came forward with offers of material and financial assistance and volunteer support, that it became possible to sponsor a second family.

Father Jorge Lopez, pastor of Sagrada Familia, the Spanish-speaking parish on Glenora Street, brought his community in as co-sponsor. An inter-parish implementation committee was formed with an impressive range of expertise.

A former parishioner offered an apartment in the OOE neighbourhood for the couple. A real estate agent on the committee found a newly renovated three-bedroom apartment in Overbrook for the first family.

The sponsorship implementation committee worked smoothly. An accountant was in charge of financial and budget matters. A former teacher saw to issues relating to education and language training. A medical doctor looked after health issues, a lawyer covered the legal.
Other volunteers kept records, organized a volunteer list, oversaw fundraising, prepared the activities schedule and provided Arabic interpretation. A hard-working team did a superb job of handling the collection and moving of clothing, appliances and furniture.

Much remains to be done, but this initiative has already rewarded our efforts. The warmth, sincerity and determination of our two Syrian families have endeared them to our parish. New friendships have formed between our parishes. A spirit of solidarity and generosity has brought us new vigour and confidence. This effort has come as a blessing for our churches, our city and our country.

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