Saskatoon is a beautifully multicultural city! Taking a stroll through our city streets provides opportunity after opportunity to encounter people from all over the globe who now call Saskatoon home. As our community grows in diversity we are given the occasion and the pleasure to reach out to our new neighbours and not only offer our hospitality but listen to the incredible stories about how they came to make a new start in a new country. For some newcomers, their story begins with being forced to leave their country of origin. On Saturday October 15th the participants of the Justice & Outreach Year (J.O.Y.) of Formation Program spent the day at the Saskatoon Open Door Society where they were invited to immerse themselves in the refugee story.
Dana Krushel, Migration and Resettlement Coordinator at the Mennonite Central Committee kicked off our day with an activity that brought into focus what being a displaced person is like. In this activity participants were asked to visit simulation stations, such as border crossings, where they had to make what are for some people, very real decisions during times conflict and migration. Difficult decisions challenged us on how to maintain our resources such as food, money and health while attempting to secure safe passage. This simulation offered a glimpse into life as a refugee and set the foundation for the rest of the day.
The Diocese of Saskatoon is committed to assisting refugees find safety in our city, and there are many dedicated volunteers at the parish level who offer their time and talent to refugee sponsorships. Sheila Flory, co-chair of the Refugee Committee at St. Philip Neri Parish, is one such volunteer and as our second facilitator she shared numerous accounts of the partnerships that occur between parishioners and refugee families.
“I find working with the refugee committee very fulfilling work!” said Flory. “We are so blessed, living in Canada, and I love giving other people a chance to start a new life in this wonderful country”.
Learning how to live, settle and thrive in a new home country is what all newcomers experience once they are here. The mission of Saskatoon’s Open Door Society is to “assist newcomers to Canada to become participating members of an inclusive and diverse community and country”. Our hosts and Cultural Bridging Facilitators, Roberta Desnomie and Farrukh Syeer, shared information about the various ways people from differing countries of origin may communicate (or miscommunicate) given their respective cultural and behavioural norms. Inclusivity and integration is a large part of the newcomer story.
Sharing his own experience as a refugee from Syria, being sponsored by the Diocese of Saskatoon and settling into life as a newcomer, Jad Rehan gave J.O.Y participants the gift of his story as our last presenter. Rehan showed pictures of his home town in Syria, before and after the bombing which forced him and his family to flee. He graciously shared what it was like for him to be uprooted, displaced and in need of a safe place to live. Having arrived only eight months ago, this faith-filled and incredibly optimistic young man leads a very full life as a student, employee and community volunteer. Rehan’s older brother and sister-in-law have also been sponsored by the diocese and he is anxiously awaiting their arrival.
With hearts and minds moved by the refugee story as it is experienced from various vantage points, we came together to close the day in gratitude with a celebration of the Mass and a community supper at St. Paul’s parish. Before the close of every J.O.Y. weekend, we gather for Eucharist and a meal. We are strengthened and nourished with laughter and friendship, learning what it means to serve and be served. We part ways more awake, more alive and hopefully more attuned the needs of others with a renewed understanding that their story is intimately linked with our own. Our common story is that we are all loved by God, we are all deserving of safety and there is room at the table for all of us.