Why would 10 Syrian refugees want to visit Writing-on-Stone of all places? Well, if they are accompanied by dedicated volunteers who want to spend a day making new friends and meeting snakes head-on, then wishes fulfilled!
On June 11, 2022, several Syrian refugees, part of three families who have been settling into life in Lethbridge, Alberta, went on an outing to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. These families had not been outside of Lethbridge since their arrival to Canada. Some have been here a few years, and the latest just arrived on April 14 of this year. They relished the chance to see this Unesco World Heritage Site.
The entire day was very capably organized by Trudy Niggli and the CWL of Allerston Parish, a mission church of St. Peter’s Parish in Milk River. The day started with a Mass at St. Isidore Catholic Church in Allerston. It was a poignant start to a day that was heaped to the top with blessings and graces. The Mass was arranged specifically for the visiting Syrian families, so Fr. Salvador Ahumada’s sermon reflected on the experiences these families have gone through. He spoke of their forced relocation; seeing the weakness of man; leaving behind loved ones and belongings; grappling with learning a new language and culture. He exhorted them to hear the Lord calling them, to keep praying and to hope in Him. “You needed to be strong, and came here out of need, not want.”
He challenged them to be the ones who can make the change, to see God’s hand at work, and to lean on Him for strength. He also prayed that our society may once again be Christian, and to pray for the ones left behind. Fr. Sal reminded them that they had a responsibility to encourage others in the faith. We left the church feeling blessed and inspired.
After the Mass, we continued into the Writing-on-Stone Park, where George Kardoh played on his Karbouka (Egyptian hand drum) , accompanying the singing of Syrian folk songs. Everyone enjoyed the true Canadian experience of roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over the campfire, and dodging the smoke. The park guide, after a Blackfoot introduction, gave us a free tour of the petroglyphs, and a snake even said hi on our path!
A perfectly timed thunder burst after the campfire led into an impromptu and hilarious polka dance as we waited out the storm in the picnic shelter. It was truly a memorable day with new friends, and thought-filled conversations about the refugee situation.
This day came from an initiative of Fr. Kevin Tumback, pastor of All Saints Parish. He suggested pooling three parishes together to support the refugees. So St. Martha’s Parish, All Saints in Lethbridge, and Allerston Mission Parish near Milk River joined forces and the results have been heartwarming. All Saints Parish had already hosted two Syrian families, so their expertise was very helpful with settling the following two families.
Brian Wright, a long-time member of All Saints Refugee Committee says, "Our Syrian families do cause us to pause and reflect on how fortunate we are to be living in Canada. It is also wonderful to be welcomed to their family just as we have welcomed them. We are the surrogate family for them in Canada, and it is a lifetime journey of sharing, learning from each other, and supporting them in their everyday life in Canada. For us, it has been an expansion of our family."
Another long-time member, Maureen Barnard, reflected that we are the family for these refugees. "We are their security as we help them navigate a new culture, a new language and a new life. We are their friends when they feel alone. We are their advocate when they need help to find a job , or get to school or go to a doctor. We are their voice when they do not yet have a voice here in Canada. It is a journey worth walking with our refugees. We feel the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ walking right beside us, every step of the way. We have witnessed so many miracles as people come forward and give from their hearts, often providing just what was needed at the time."
Lana Takla, who arrived in Canada 6 years ago, talks about coming from a village where their whole life revolves around the two hundred and fifty or so residents plus the priest and their church. They are deeply dependent on our Lord for their daily lives and they miss that community when they come to Canada. They are in constant fellowship in Syria so they miss the other family members they have left behind.
Mazyed Takla, who came to Canada with his family in October, 2021, felt that he misses the food, the weather, their music, their friends and their homes.
George Kardoh, the most recent arrival (April of 2022), expresses that he feels welcomed and loved here in Canada but awaits anxiously the rest of his family. He feels very alone at times.
They all love the fact that they can trust a bank, the government, and they know that no one here will try to do them harm. They trust us but there are still many challenges - learning a new language, cultural and food differences, financial burdens, and the longing to be reunited with family left behind. The Refugee Committee embraces the work we do as servants of the Lord. We are His body on earth, and we are richly rewarded in this work.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19)
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers