St. Pius X Parish Celebrates the International Year of the Refugee
Sunday, June 23rd, St. Pius X parish in Charlottetown held a potluck brunch to honour the families the parish had sponsored and the many, many volunteers who have helped the families after they came to Canada.
St. Pius X Parish began sponsoring refugees in 1979. When thousands of Vietnamese were fleeing their country in overcrowded boats, Canada appealed to people to try to rescue some of them. Canadians responded generously, taking in some 50,000 people in the next few years. In our parish, Bruce and Maureen Garrity, Abe and Laura Zakem, and many others organized to sponsor the Au’s a family of 11. When they came, they brought nothing whatever with them. Maureen Garrity recalled the day the committee rented a house for the family and watched in relief as parishioners arrived bringing all that was needed. However, none of them could speak English. Happily, another parishioner, Dr. Tony Gutterez, was able to provide translation services. The family worked hard and prospered. Currently most of them now live in Ontario.
In 2002, Momo Kanneh, a Liberian journalist,fled his country and was helped to come to Charlottetown by a group of Canadian journalists. But he had left behind his son and a group of eight nephews and nieces whose parents had been killed and who had been on the run for several years. They ranged in age from five to nineteen. As a single person, Momo was not eligible to sponsor so many, so he sought out partners. Grant Curtis with the Christian Life Committee and our parish agreed to help. Over the next few years, the committee brought 12 of the Kanneh family to the Island. The federal government supported them financially for two years and our committee contributed time, energy, and household goods. We also helped them to get settled in school, and involved in sports. Many of the children had never attended school before. Parishioners like Al and Lynne MacDonald and others spent countless hours tutoring them in English and helping them with their studies. Now, most are working and have families in Alberta and Ontario. Only one of the original group is still living on the Island.
In 2008, Father John Molina, himself a refugee from Colombia, told us about a Colombian family of 10 who were waiting for someone to sponsor them to come to Canada. Again, working with the Canadian government, we co-sponsored the Ortiz family– Cenaida, the mother, and her ten children ranging in age from newborn Jorman to 15-year old Angie. Her eldest son, Edward, followed the next year. We helped them find a place to live, furnish their house, clothe the children, and register them for school. We also helped with language training and school work. Our contribution again was mainly time, energy and material goods. The committee’s co-chair, retired teacher Helene Garg, has been and continues to be their adopted “grandmother.” Ten years later, five are still in school, five have graduated and two have moved to Quebec.
In 2013,the Charlottetown diocese undertook to sponsor five Iraqi families who were living in refugee camps in Syria. Our parish agreed to sponsor one family, but after we had raised $10 000, war broke out in Syria, and there was great difficulty communicating with them. Eventually we learned that, because of the long delays in processing, they had opted to emigrate to Australia.
In 2014,we sponsored a Burmese family of three. However, after they arrived in Toronto, they decided they would prefer to settle in Kitchener, Ontario, near friends who were already there.
In 2015, jointly with the Canadian government, we sponsored a second Burmese family, the Lee Reh family of four. Again we had new volunteers: Lou Richard and Gloria Hansen headed up the refugee committee. All of this family are still on the Island. Pre, the son, has just graduated from Colonel Gray, and his sister and her husband work for Vanco Farms.
In 2017, we began the process of sponsoring Ahmed Abdullahi, a Somali refugee. He has finished high school and speaks some English so is in much better situation than many we have sponsored previously. Currently he is staying with a Somali family in Malaysia but, because he is not a Malaysian citizen, he is unable to work or study there. The delay in his coming to Canada seems to be the difficulty completing security checks in Somalia, since the country is in a state of chaos. This sponsorship would be private i.e. there would be no government contribution. The current committee consists of 14 parishioners, many of whom have served before on one or more previous committees. It is co-chaired by Charles Keliher and Catherine Mullally.
Parishioners who spoke at the gathering pointed out how much they themselves had gained from the experience and how much good the refugees had brought to our country. Those who had been sponsored expressed their gratitude for all the help they had received. Committee members also pointed out that in recent years the greatly expanded role of the Newcomers’ Association has helped sponsors and refugees enormously.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the current number of refugees in the world is estimated to be about 68 million, but the number of those who have been settled is only 7%. The need for sponsors is great.
Co-chair, St. Pius X Refugee Committee
June 25, 2019