Pascal Zafar, his wife Matilda Alber and their daughter Selena fled Syria after a series of bombings and kidnappings.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Pascal Zafar, his wife Matilda Alber and their daughter Selena fled Syria after a series of bombings and kidnappings.

July 11, 2016
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Matilda Alber and husband Pascal Zafar underwent many challenges back in Syria. Pascal was kidnapped, Matilda's brother was also kidnapped and the couple's two pharmacies were destroyed by bombing.

Life was unbearable. So the couple packed what they could and left for Lebanon only to learn that Christians like them are not welcome in the refugee camps.

All that is over now, and Matilda and Pascal wear pleasant smiles and seem happy. They have been in Edmonton since October, all thanks to the Sisters of Providence who sponsored them.

Matilda and Pascal and their four-year-old daughter Selena were among dozens of refugee families and their sponsors who attended a Mass for refugees at St. Joseph's Basilica June 28.

"You are our brothers and sisters and we welcome you," Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith told them at the beginning of the Mass.

Matilda and Pascal lived comfortably in Aleppo, where they owned two pharmacies. But the war changed everything. In late 2012 he was kidnapped by a terrorist cell that wanted money. He was released after paying a US$10,000 ransom. Then mortar shells destroyed their pharmacies. Fed up and afraid, the couple left Aleppo in 2013.

"There were mortar shells, stray bullets and kidnappings, so we decided to flee the country," recalled Matilda.

As they prepared the documentation, Matilda's brother was kidnapped by another terrorist group. They tortured the young Christian doctor to force him to abandon his faith and to fight on their side. He was released after six months when another gang invaded and took possession of the hostages.

Matilda and Pascal ended up in Lebanon but they couldn't go to a refugee camp because Christians aren't welcome there. Fortunately, they had a friend who allowed them to stay in an apartment. They came to Edmonton nine months ago.

The Sisters of Providence have supported the couple in everything. "They have helped us since Day One," noted Matilda. "They were at the airport. They were very welcoming. They had an apartment and furniture for us."

Salma Dallal (left) came to Canada with her family which is being sponsored by St. Edmond Parish in Edmonton. Liz Dacruz is a member of the parish refugee committee.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Salma Dallal (left) came to Canada with her family which is being sponsored by St. Edmond Parish in Edmonton. Liz Dacruz is a member of the parish refugee committee.

The couple feels secure in Edmonton. "We feel there is a future for our daughter and for our family," Matilda said.

But getting used to their new country hasn't been that easy. "Big changes for us," noted Matilda. "A lot of challenges, a new culture, a new country, new weather, everything is new."

The couple often think of their families. Matilda's brother, who left Syria after his kidnapping, is now in Lebanon with his parents waiting to come to Canada.

"We have a lot of people who need to come here to Canada," said Pascal.

Matilda, who speaks English fluently, has two part-time jobs. She works on call as a translator with Catholic Social Services and serves handicapped people at L'Arche.

They are both pharmacists with 15 years of experience and their dream is to work as pharmacists here too. But Pascal, who is still learning English, said it has been difficult to even find a job as pharmacy assistant.

"I can't find a job because I don't have Canadian experience but I have over 15 years of experience," he said. "I need someone to give me a chance. I don't have Canadian experience because I'm new here."

The Sisters of Providence are happy they helped Matilda, Pascal and Selena to come to Edmonton.

"They are very grateful people and are always willing to help out," said Sister Germaine Chalifoux. She noted Matilda began volunteering at Catholic Social Services as soon as she learned they needed interpreters. That turned into a part-time job later on when other Syrians began arriving.

Sister Gloria Keylor, provincial superior, said her order decided to sponsor a family when the archdiocese made the request. Matilda and Pascal come often to Providence Centre for supper and to visit. "This is a very lovely family."

In his homily at the Mass, the archbishop welcomed the refugees who have recently come to Edmonton in search of a new home and a new life.

DEEDS OF SUPPORT

"You are our brothers and sisters, and we wish to extend to you not only our words and gestures of welcome but also our pledges and deeds of support.

"What you have known as home is now behind you; you seek now to establish a new home here in this country. We want to assure you that you have, too, a home - a real home - here in the Church where we are all one as children of our loving God."

Salma Dallal was also at the Mass and reception with her husband Nouman Dallal and their children George, 14, and Kalina, 9.

The family arrived just after Christmas and is sponsored by St. Edmund's Parish, which is co-sponsoring three other Syrian families.

"They are amazing. They are very kind people," said Salma of her family's sponsors. "They are helping us so much in everything like in settlement, in education, helping the kids in the school. They never let us need anything."

PROTECTING THE KIDS

Salma studied English in Syria where she was an elementary school teacher. "I stopped teaching when the war started. I decided to stay at home with the kids to protect them."

The couple left war-torn Aleppo when the violence became too much. "My son's best friend was killed at home by shrapnel from (a bomb) that exploded near his home and my daughter's best friend, who was six, was killed when a bullet fell on his head at the daycare."

Right now Salma is working part-time retail at Kingsway Garden Mall, and Nouman is preparing himself to find a job as a chartered accountant.

Salma said her family is in Canada to stay, but to stay her husband needs to find a good job. "Everything is great here. Everyone is so kind with us, but you can't stay home without finding a good job for your family."

SPONSORS ENRICHED

Liz Dacruz, a member of the parish refugee committee, says her life has been enriched by the Dallal family.

"Their children bring great joy to all of us," she said. "There are about 10 or 12 of us in the committee and somebody goes to their place all the time. We are always there for coffee or just chitchatting and visiting."

The Dallals, who are Catholic, live in a three-bedroom house near St. Edmund's Church. They all speak English and "the children are doing extremely well in school," noted Dacruz. "George is in Grade 8 and is an honour student. Kaline just finished Grade 3 and she is doing very well. Both have integrated very well."

George was on the soccer team this year playing for Delwood and his dad was the team's assistant coach.

Having the Dallals in the parish "makes us realize our problems are small in the grand scheme of things," Dacruz said.

"It also makes us realize how people from all over are so similar. People are people."