As we prepare to celebrate World day of Migrants and Refugees this weekend, Bill Steinburg (Communications Manager for ShareLife and the Office of Public Relations & Communications) shares the story of one family who can now call Canada home thanks to the efforts of the Catholic community of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Brampton, Ontario.
In his remarks last year in advance of World Day of Migrants and Refugees on January 9, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the theme of “One human family.” In our diocese – one of the most diverse in the world – the Pope’s description of “one family of brothers and sisters in societies that are becoming ever more multiethnic and intercultural” is an obvious reality.
Our region receives more immigrants and refugees each year than any other part of the country and behind the arrival of each new family is a unique story. I recently had a chance to hear one of those stories, when I met the Shakar family at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Bramalea. It’s an inspiring tale that involves our Catholic faith community at the local, regional and international level.
I’m not sure many of us can imagine having the government step in and take away your job, your livelihood, and essentially remove any future opportunity for you to support your family. That was the case for Majad Shakar, the sole provider of his family when they lived in Baghdad – a Catholic family in a sea of anti-Christian sentiment. The recent bombing attack during a Chaldean Mass celebration there, and the subsequent cancellation of public Christmas celebrations, reinforce the fact that the family was in real, mortal danger. Majad, his wife, Emanjajoo, and three children fled Iraq for Jordan, where they lived as refugees for several years. While their lives were not threatened in Jordan, Majad was not allowed to work and their children, Dalya, Dyna and Dany, were only allowed to attend school in two of the five years they were there. They relied on the charity of family members overseas for their survival.
Finally, in 2009, things turned around for the Shakars. In a clear demonstration of universal Catholic unity, the Shakar family was offered new hope and new opportunities here in the Greater Toronto Area. Fr. John Mullins and his parishioners at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Bramalea sponsored the Shakars. The parish organized a committee of volunteers to prepare for the arrival and settlement of the family. The Office for Refugees of the Archdiocese of Toronto – an agency fully funded by the ShareLife annual appeal – identified the family, liaised with the federal government and helped with the arrival process. When the Shakars arrived in Toronto, a group from the parish was there to welcome them with open arms and the parish community has provided friendship and support since then.
When they were in Iraq, and later in Jordan, Majad confides that all he could dream of was getting his family out of there. Today, his dreams are a lot like many of ours; he hopes to one day own a van and a home. Both Emanjajoo and Majad are now working; she, in the service sector and he, once again plying his trade as a machinist. Dalya, Dyna and Dany are thriving in school and have career aspirations of their own. They are contributing members of their parish and their community.
Following Archbishop Collins’ encouragement, dozens of parishes throughout the diocese are stepping forward to sponsor persecuted Iraqi Christians, providing them with hopes and opportunities similar to those the Shakar family received through St. Anthony of Padua. As the Holy Father wrote in his address to the world, “those who are forced to leave their homes or their country will be helped to find a place where they may live in peace and safety, where they may work and take on the rights and duties that exist in the Country that welcomes them, contributing to the common good and without forgetting the religious dimension of life.”
On World Day of Migrants and Refugees, we can celebrate those words in the knowledge that here in the Archdiocese of Toronto, these words have been turned into action.
Bill Steinburg is the Communications Manager for the Office of Public Relations & Communications and ShareLife.