This Iraqi family, including Luay Majeed, left, his wife Huda Saleem, her mother Badriy Peter and their three sons Waseem, Weam and Basamn (not pictured), came to Edmonton in November.


This Iraqi family, including Luay Majeed, left, his wife Huda Saleem, her mother Badriy Peter and their three sons Waseem, Weam and Basamn (not pictured), came to Edmonton in November.

December 21, 2015

Even as war encamped around them in Aleppo, Syrian Catholic couple Ranim Azghen and Naim Kossa never lost their trust in God.

Thousands of kilometres away in Edmonton, Canada, it was that same faith that was propelling a group of volunteers at Holy Family Parish to help deliver their Syrian brothers and sisters to safety.

"Prayer helped, every time," said Azghen, whose family, including her two young sons, recently arrived in Edmonton. The family is looking forward to a "happy and relaxed" Christmas this year, after the last three Christmases without electricity, water or security.

The couple was among about 20 Syrian and Iraqi Christians who participated in a refugee orientation at St. Thomas More Church Dec. 11.

With thousands more Syrian and Iraqi refugees to arrive in Canada by the end of the year, the real work is now beginning for parishes throughout the Edmonton Archdiocese that have stepped up to sponsor refugee families.

Iraqi refugee family Luay Majeed, his wife Huda Saleem, her mother Badriy Peter and their three sons Waseem, Weam and Basamn arrived in November.

Waseem remembers the day he came out of school after his last exam to see ISIS had entered their small town near Mosul.

Life immediately changed for Christian Iraqis. They were given three options: convert to Islam, pay a religious tax or death. Majeed's family lost everything; their cars, money, gold and even their house.

At the same time that ISIS entered Mosul, the St. Joseph Iraqi-Canadian Association began mobilizing to bring Christian Iraqi families to Canada as soon as possible.

Peter Putrus, a member of the Edmonton-based Iraqi Christian group, said there is more support for Iraqi refugees now than when he arrived in Canada in 1983, also fleeing war.

Weam said the family is happy and excited to be in Canada, where all people are respected and "life is very important.

"It's a good feeling. We feel safe and respected. I love Canada," he added. "The best country in the world."

Putrus provided translation in Arabic at the recent refugee orientation.

Peter Putrus

Peter Putrus

The two-week program included trips to the city's attractions and seminars which included practical advice that ranged from how to adjust to culture shock and emotional trauma to the Canadian weather.

Facilitator Frank Bessai of CSS advised the new Canadian residents to keep warm clothing in the car in case they get stuck in the snow.

"Don't worry," said Bessai, "Canadians will help push you out of the snow."

Edmonton police officers were also on hand to talk about the law and court system of Canada.

The orientation is key to helping refugees to succeed in their new homeland, Bessai said.

The federal government said 10,000 Syrian refugees will arrive by year's end, including 8,000 privately-sponsored and 2,000 government-assisted refugees.


Wendy Hoven, chair of the Holy Family refugee committee, said the parish is swamped with the work of helping to settle new families, including enrolling the children in school and adults in English classes, grocery shopping and government forms.

Wendy Hoven

Wendy Hoven

But it is "exciting" the refugees have started arriving, Hoven added. In addition to the Kossa family, Holy Family welcomed an Iraqi family on Dec. 8 and another Syrian family is expected to arrive before Christmas.


"They're a joy to have," said Hoven.

Members of the parish accepted Archbishop Richard Smith's invitation to sponsor refugees in response to a call of God to help those in need, said Hoven.

"I think there was just a sense of responsibility as Catholics that we have to respond, especially to our brothers and sisters in need, and it's been delightful."

Paulette Johnson, refugee sponsorship co-ordinator for Catholic Social Services, said notices of arrival are now coming with only a few days' notice.

"Things have gotten really, really busy here since all the sponsorships of Syrians should be arriving by the end of December," she said.

Johnson appealed to parishes that do not feel they can take on a sponsorship to help another parish with getting donated furniture.

Edmonton's Our Lady of Good Help Maronite Catholic Parish is expecting four families to arrive. The parish is having difficulty finding large furniture items, such as beds, tables, chairs, couches and other living room furnishings, she said.