Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
June 4, 2001
Basilica parish builds bridges
Catholic parish joins with Anglicans to sponsor African refugees
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
EDMONTON — If you have ever wondered how what may initially appear to be a rather difficult undertaking ever comes to fruition, here is how it went in our case - the joint sponsorship of a young mother from Sierra Leone and her two young children, current living in a refugee camp in Guinea.
In the end it all was quite simple - not only did we end up with a sponsorship that bridges continents, but also one that reaches out to another faith community.
It all started in the summer of 2000 with a note from Sister Annata Brockman, pastoral assistant at St. Joseph's Basilica, to me, the newly elected chairman of the parish pastoral council.
The note was a request from Christine Baghdady, a St. Joseph's parishioner, to address council at one of its meetings about the need for refugee sponsors.
In October 2000, parish pastoral council agreed to invite Christine for the education portion of our November meeting. For her presentation, Christine brought along Paulette Johnson, program coordinator for Catholic Social Services' refugee sponsorship program.
Paulette explained the various sponsorship options and presented a couple of scenarios - profiles that we simply could not walk away from without giving refugee sponsorship some serious thought.
In January 2001, we decided to test the waters by placing a note about our intentions to sponsor a refugee family from Africa in our parish bulletin and ask for volunteers to work with us. We were going to let the response be the determining factor.
In the meantime, I jokingly challenged a colleague of mine, who is also an Anglican minister, along the lines of "Look what we Catholics are doing, and what have you Anglicans done lately?" (Ray and I do that sort of thing, especially in light of the fact that Ray is a former Jesuit.)
Two days later Ray said that he had spoken to his wife Carol, who is the pastor of St. Matthew's Anglican Church in St. Albert, and that she and her vestry (parish council) would love to join us in the Sierra Leone refugee project.
I was invited to their morning worship and annual parish meeting on the following Sunday and received a most enthusiastic response and commitment.
At the February meeting of St. Joseph's parish pastoral council, I was therefore able to report, not only that we had a co-sponsor in St. Matthew's Anglican Church, but also that our own parishioners had come through. Eleven committed parishioners had come forward, some with extensive professional expertise in the settlement of refugees.
And most graciously, one had offered her self-contained basement suite to accommodate Hawah (aged 21) and her two young children, Kokoh, four, and Kathy, two, rent free for up to a year. Needless to say, council unanimously approved the project.
From then on, things unfolded quickly. We agreed on a basic settlement plan, with Citizenship and Immigration Canada financing the first four months, and St. Joseph's and St. Matthew's sharing equally the financial responsibility for the remaining eight months of the contract.
In early April 2001, the necessary forms were signed. Citizenship and Immigration Canada accepted and sent the documentation to the Canadian mission in Accra, Ghana, for interviews with "the refugees to determine their eligibility and admissibility to Canada."
After Easter, St. Matthew's and St. Joseph's celebrated their joint commitment in a liturgy of praise and thanksgiving and in fellowship.
So now we are waiting to hear . . . and hope for notice by Citizenship and Immigration Canada of the family's arrival "at least eight days prior to their arrival."
In the meantime, we won't be idle, but continue, with the help of Hawah's uncle and her extended family already in Edmonton, to prepare for Hawah, Kathy and Kokoh's arrival. Right now, we are considering a fundraising event with a Sierra Leone or West Africa theme.
Our commitment, of course, goes far beyond the financial aspect. We want to offer Hawah and her children our friendship and love for as long as necessary to help her heal from the danger, hardship, terror and atrocities she has had to endure.
(For more information about the program, please contact Paulette Johnson, program coordinator, at 424-3545.)
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