Churches continue efforts to help refugees

March 8, 2017

The father, mother and two of three children of a recently arrived Syrian family with, at far right, a welcoming parishioner from the co-sponsoring  churches of St. Paul the Apostle and St. John Brebeuf in Winnipeg.

By James Buchok

The stream of asylum seekers crossing the U.S. border on foot into Canada at Emerson, Man., is not expected to stop anytime soon and will, in fact, only grow as spring approaches, say officials in both the U.S. and Canada.
In the meantime churches in Manitoba continue the process of sponsoring government –assisted refugees seeking to leave countries besieged by famine or war.  The effort requires a small army of volunteers, and financial resources to support a refugee family for at least one year In the fall of 2015 three churches in Dauphin; Dauphin First United Church, the First Baptist Church and St. Viator’s Roman Catholic Church, started working together to sponsor refugee families and one year ago they welcomed  three families from Syria to Dauphin, 15 people altogether.
In Winnipeg the churches of St. John Brebeuf and St. Paul the Apostle welcomed a Syrian family of five in November.  On Feb. 5 St. Paul the Apostle hosted a Meet and Greet for the family and parishioners.
“It was an amazing experience for both the family and the community,” said pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Rev.,  Eric Giddins. “Bilal (the husband and father) spoke to the community in English. The family has only been here two months and knew very little English upon arrival. He spoke clearly and graciously about how happy he and his family are to be in Winnipeg to begin their new life. He stated that the family is so grateful for our hospitality, sponsorship, support, and encouragement. This experience has been very meaningful and profound for our parish.”
Tom Bailey-Robertson, Pastoral Associate at St. John Brebeuf said the settlement experience “has been wonderful.  There's a group of about a dozen volunteers who are involved with the day-to-day happenings, and another 50 members or so who pitch in.  The community's response has been tremendous. My office is packed with donations and not a week goes by without a message about an item someone wants to donate.  Sponsors are responsible for everything; housing, furniture, moving, setting up finances, medical appointments, finding a school for the kids, getting the parents into English classes.  However, it's easy to help because this family is so gracious.  They are eager to be independent and it's very rewarding to be around them. “
Angela Tessier, a volunteer with the St. Paul the Apostle-Brebeuf group said, “it is a gift and privilege to walk the journey with them. We can only be impressed with their tenacity, courage and resiliency. 
While there have been challenges, primarily language, there have been moments of sheer joy like the sight of the children hurtling down a hill on a toboggan for the first time, and the smile on the daughter's face when she arrives in from school, exhausted but thrilled that she can go to school. There were also moments of brilliant co-incidences, where perhaps God chose to be anonymous, when a translator just appeared when needed or when a childcare space came open or someone knew someone who was able to help out wherever and whenever. Untold rewards are the wonderful people that I have met in both parishes who have given unconditionally in time, money and items.”|

Churches in the Archdiocese of Winnipeg are asked to provide updates on their refugee sponsorship activities by contacting the Archdiocese of Winnipeg Director of Communications, James Buchok, by email at

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