Refugee sponsorship has been around in Canada for decades. So, what is it? The best and simplest way to describe refugee sponsorship, from my experience, is to say that it is the ministry of welcoming strangers who become friends. That description comes from “a stranger is a friend I have yet to meet” – words credited to the Irish poet William Butler Yeats.
I have been involved in parish refugee sponsorship since the late ‘70s when we welcomed the Vietnamese “Boat People” who fled the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Our parish is an ongoing refugee sponsorship group which means that after each formal commitment to sponsor a family or refugee ends, we apply to sponsor another family, refugee or group. Over the years we have welcomed friends from Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Pakistan, Sudan, and the Congo. Yes, it is hard work and often frustrating, but the benefits are incredible. For information on how to become a sponsor, go to Sponsor a Refugee found on Canada.ca.
Later this month we will begin the liturgical season of Advent, one of my favourites. Advent in my RC tradition is a penitential season (but not as long or deep as Lent), a time for reflection, for repentance, for joyfully awaiting the celebration of the birth of Our Saviour, Jesus Christ the light of the world, all symbolized in the Advent Wreath. So, what is the connection between Advent and refugees? Refugees wait in hope, hope of finding a safe home or being able to return home. Did you know that Jesus was a refugee? Shortly after his Birth, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had to flee to Egypt for the Child’s safety, effectively becoming refugees from their homeland. This experience is unfortunately all too common in our world today. The least we can do this Advent is pray for refugees and perhaps learn more.
Advent is a time for giving as witnessed by the numerous requests in church bulletins and the media. Have you considered giving two very precious gifts: your time and a warm welcome? Refugee sponsorship allows us to do that. As sponsors we financially support a family for a year, help them settle in Canada, and most importantly, befriend them. Anyone can help – a senior who has time to drive and accompany people to appointments and shopping; a young family with children who can play with refugee children and help them adjust to school; someone with contacts to find housing and employment. The more people who are willing to help the less work there is for an individual.
The pink candle on the Advent wreath for the Third Sunday of Advent is a reminder of the joys of Christmas to come. Refugee sponsorship brings much joy. Those who have sponsored say that they receive far more than they give. Mary Jo Leddy, a well-known refugee advocate and founder of Romero House in Toronto, writes “With (refugees) I have discovered the burden and the blessing of my own calling as a human being and a Christian.” Share the joys of children able to play safely and go to school, of parents who can see a future for their children, of young people who are free to dream, and of elders who feel secure as they age.
Our Advent prayer and expectant waiting brings us closer to Christmas when Mary first held her Son, our Saviour in her arms. In refugee camps desperate mothers cradle their children in their arms wondering whether the children will live and apprehensive for their futures if they do. Can we take time over the Advent and Christmas season to think of and pray for these mothers as we meditate on the coming of Mary’s Child, God Incarnate? May we also be moved to take action and consider refugee sponsorship. Trust me, you will not regret doing it. I know because I and so many in my parish keep coming back to sponsor, and to continue walking with our new friends.
Large group shot (l to r): Kyala’s son, Faustin (Kyala’s husband), Kyala, Yvonne, 3 grandchildren plus Kyala’s youngest, members of St Mary’s Refugee Committee: Anna and Darwin
Smaller group shot (l to r): This is a photo of Mary Nordick, Kyala, Yvonne and Sheila. (Yvonne is holding card with gift certificate from our committee)
Picture notes by Mary: Yvonne’s arrival. She’s a grandmother from a refugee camp in Zambia after fleeing war in the Congo with her three orphaned grandchildren. When she registered at the camp a worker noticed her name and asked if she knew Kyala who had recently left the camp with her family to be sponsored in Canada. Kyala is Yvonne’s daughter. Yvonne believed that she had been killed in the war. After making contact, Kyala began trying to get her mother and the children to Canada with the help of her sponsoring parish St. Mary’s and with the help pf my parish St. Philip Neri. Five long years later: Success! What a joyful reunion that was at the airport! Sheila is the chair of the St. Philip Neri parish sponsorship committee and has become the local expert in dealing with and filling out government forms.