The family of Joseph and Maryem were introduced to Jesus Christ while living in Iran. This family began to thirst to know Jesus better, and would meet secretly to study and pray with the scriptures, as their Islamic faith would forbid. They couldn’t seem to get enough, and the Word made flesh, was changing their lives, increasing the joy that they felt.
When it was found out that these times of study and prayer were happening, they were watched very closely, and the persecution of this family began, with threats on their lives, and even of their children, which happened regularly. With little choice they left everything behind and escaped to Turkey.
While Turkey is a temporary safe haven, the government has the right to deport them at any time. Turkey, which is a more secular Muslim country, based on the ideals set by its founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, has taken in a large number of refugees, some who have escaped their homelands due to religious persecution. Due to the high cost of maintaining the refugees and the economic state of Turkey, refugees are not of high importance. As a result, there is a fear of being deported at any time, which would be very grave for this family. As refugees they are restricted in their movement, medical benefits, attending Church, and the children’s schooling. This family of four live in a tiny one bedroom space that for some would be no larger than the size of their living room. They were assigned by immigration police to a city where there is no Catholic Church. To get permission to leave the city for any reason, and especially for religious purposes, is seldom granted. They are not allowed to work. When they have days without pandemic lock down, the family walks twice a day to an abandoned Orthodox Church that is in ruins. They sit on the wall outside the locked fence and pray to God. For four years this family had longed to be baptized as they studied weekly the Catholic faith on WhatsApp with the local priest, who himself was exiled from Iran for his work with the Catholic Church, and is now assigned to the care of all Catholic Iranians in Turkey.
In the past year a miracle happened for this family. A small group of us who began helping refugees when Fr. Ephrem was in Calgary, travelled to Turkey to see my daughter and son in law who live in Istanbul. Without prior planning, the journey would culminate with the baptism of not only this family, but another as well, who we are also awaiting in Calgary. To be present at their baptism was somewhat surreal, as when we went, we had no idea that this would unfold. It was as if we were on a mission, and the very journey to the Church to receive the Sacraments was very difficult and arduous.
However, everything came together over the course of a few days, and as the priest would say, “man proposes, and God disposes”. It was the faith and prayers of this little family that were heard by God. He did not allow their cries to go unheard. However, this refugee family has been forgotten about during the pandemic and are languishing in Turkey, fearful of being deported back to Iran because they have converted from Islam to Christianity. When meeting this family we wanted nothing more than to lift them out from the plight of their present circumstances.
After the baptism of this family, we met the Papal Nuncio in Istanbul, and several other families who are crying out for help were met and brought to our attention. At present our small group that have formed from various parishes throughout city of Calgary have a total of five families, their paperwork has been completed and approved by CCIS and Bishop McGrattan.
The pandemic has affected all of us, including our parishes. Nevertheless, five parishes have committed to taking these families and journeying with them while we have committed to helping them find the funds from private donations.
As Pope Francis has said, “Today, the culture of comfort… makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people… which results in indifference to others, it even leads to the globalization of indifference.” Have we ever seriously considered what it would take for us to lay down our life for the sake of the Gospel? In Calgary we may never know what this is like because of the freedom we have always enjoyed. But there are people across the globe who can teach us profoundly what this means, and how precious our faith is, such as our friends, Joseph and Maryem.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers