October 12, 2015

Representatives from parishes across the Ottawa archdiocese met recently to discover how they can help sponsor Syrian refugees.

Ottawa's Episcopal Vicar for Pastoral Services Father Geoff Kerslake told the gathering the number of people requiring help is mind blowing."

Even if the government increases the number of refugees by ten or twenty times, it "will only be a drop in the bucket," he said.

Other parishes have already been involved in sponsoring one or more families. Some parishes assisted families who had the ability to support their relatives, but were working through the parishes to get help in the sponsorship process.

Parishes can also sponsor individuals, which is less complex from a logistical point of view, he said.

Parishes can also cooperate together to help sponsor refugees.

"The biggest issue isn't the money," Kerslake said. "The big issue is getting a core committee of six to eight people who will look after the logistics of getting the family settled."

This includes finding them a place to live, furniture, clothing, getting the children registered in school, help with grocery shopping, teaching them how to get around the city, help with obtaining government documents, employment and other matters.


The Ottawa archdiocese has prepared several permanent deacons who will help with the "significant amount of paperwork" involved in sponsorship, Kerslake said. "This makes it easier to get the ball rolling."

Karen Mahoney of the Catholic Centre for Immigration said the refugees who come to Canada are already screened for medical and security reasons.

"All of this is taken care of by the visa office."

The Ottawa archdiocese is the Sponsorship Agreement Holder with the government, but parishes take on the responsibility for sponsoring refugees under this agreement, said Julie Salach Simard, also of the Catholic Immigration Centre.

The federal government promised to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees by September. 2016, instead of 2017, while still fulfilling its commitment to Iraqis. Parishes may specify they want to help a Christian refugee family, Simard said.

"Three families came to us through relatives in our Catholic community and through a contact we have with an overseas monastery."


A Syrian refugee present in the audience spoke up, saying, "I saw myself with my eyes what happened when ISIS or jihad captured a city and killed the Christians there. Christians are suffering there and nobody helps us."

Simard assured the audience, saying,"We will come and do training," promising parishes and groups of parishes support throughout the process.

"It is not just the refugees who benefit," she said.

"It builds community in your parish."