Refugee Sponsorship


Spurred on by the current Syrian refugee crisis, by Pope Francis’s call to action, and by questions from several parishioners, a group of concerned parishioners of St. Monica’s Parish suggested a proposal to privately sponsor a Syrian family.

On February 21, 2016, a meeting was held to gauge whether there was enough interest to look more closely at that possibility. Norbert Piché, a St. Monica’s parishioner who works for the Jesuit Refugee Service, presented information on sponsorship, noting the financial responsibility for the family’s first year in Canada but also the ongoing moral responsibility. Refugees are assured of medical coverage by the government and receive some financial assistance for French courses and for children.

Because there seemed to be enough interest, with approximately 30 people signing up to help in some form or other, a meeting was held with the pastor and wardens of the parish. It was agreed that no parish funds would be used for the project. All funds would need to be assured by individual or group donations before the parish would accept the project.

All parishioners were offered the opportunity to commit to the project and the funds were subsequently assured. On June 4, 2016, the Refugee Sponsoring Committee received from the pastor and wardens the permission to proceed.

The committee had the heart-wrenching task of choosing one family to sponsor from the list of five suggested families. The Alrayes family, pictured below, a Sunni Syrian couple with four children, was chosen.

Ziad, Eman, and their children have been living in Jordan since they were forced to flee Syria in 2013. Ziad had been targeted by the Syrian government because he worked as a driver and general handyman at a hospital that continued to treat civilians. During his detainment in Syria he was kept in solitary confinement for an extended period and was tortured.

The three older children have trauma related to the war, as they were living close to an active war-zone. The youngest son suffers from asthma.

Application forms need to be approved by the Québec and federal governments before a family can be officially accepted into Canada. The forms for the Alrayes family were sent in to the Quebec government on June 30, 2016.  They were then sent on to the case processing centre in Winnipeg for federal approval on in August, 2016. In January 2017 the application forms were sent to the visa office in Jordan. The family had their interview on May 9, 2017. Following this interview, if everything went well, they will be requested to submit to medical exams and then they will have an orientation to Canadian society. Security checks are last before the final decision and issuance of the visa.  The Canadian interviewer said that hopefully the family would be in Canada by the end of 2017.

As they and we await, somewhat impatiently at times, their arrival in Canada, we are supporting them financially by providing money for medicine for the father and access to transportation so that three of the children can attend school. We are also in contact by means of e-mail letters which are posted on this website.

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May 2017

Salam Aleykoum Alrayes Family!

So much good news, since last we wrote! We understand that your interview on May 9th went well. Congratulations! We are so happy to hear that your next steps are the medical examinations and learning about Canada, and that all going well, your arrival here should be before the end of the year.

Our committee to sponsor you met recently to get the latest news and to start a preliminary search for a home for you. The housing committee would like to ask if you have any specifications that are very important to you for your home? Anything that you absolutely would like or need? They are already keeping in mind things like 3 bedrooms, proximity to schools, stores, and public transportation. They will try to meet your specifications if there are any, and want you to know that your opinion matters.

I am happy to include photos of springtime here, since the last photos I shared in March were after a big snow storm, and as Sandy said, April wasn’t very picture worthy, lots of rain and cold and bare branches. These photos are taken from our neighbourhood, the first is a flowering tree just outside our Church, St. Monica’s. You might be wondering at this Canadian characteristic to talk about the weather so much. It is a point of pride and often a point of survival too, and definitely a subject that we can all talk about because we all experience it. Good or bad, rain or shine, it brings us together.

As you will see for yourself when you arrive! We are very much looking forward to that day, and to getting to know you all in person and helping you in settle in to your new home and your new life. Thank you for including the photo of your beautiful family recently. It was so nice to put faces to the names and to start to get to know you a little better. We wish the happiest of birthdays to Yousef for May 1st and to Emam for June 4th Lots of health and happiness to you both!

We continue to pray for you and hope that the rest of the process goes smoothly.

Peace and blessings to the whole family,

Melissa and your friends at St. Monica’s

April 2017

Greetings Dear Alrayes Family,

First of all, best wishes to Ziad on his 41st birthday! All being well, you will celebrate your next birthday here with us in Montreal. We hope your health is somewhat improved and we were all glad to hear that the money we are sending you is proving useful. It is our pleasure to be able to help you in this small way.

Once again, I have not included any photos, as spring is arriving very slowly here in Montreal. Day after day, it has been cool, grey and rainy. Almost none of the trees are budding out yet and there is little sign of spring flowers, so there is not much to show you worth a photo.  We must have faith and patience that spring will eventually come, as it always does.

As you are probably aware, the very important Christian celebration of Easter is just over. All of us here at St. Monica's have been much involved in prayerful and joyous celebration.  Easter is for us an even greater holy day than Christmas, though happily with less commercial nonsense.

The recent news for Syria, your former home, has been quite terrible. I am sure you are all to aware of this. So many of us here in Canada, myself included, can barely stand to watch the television news. It is hard to believe and difficult to have to acknowledge that there is so much evil in the world. On a brighter note, I feel I can say that here in Canada---the country where you are headed----life is good for most of us ordinary people. Above all, we do not experience constant fear for our lives, something for which we must be deeply grateful.

On a practical level, the Refugee Committee at St. Monica's Church will be meeting in a few days time. Hopefully, we will have updated news on the progress of you application. Any new developments will be passed on to you in May's letter, or even sooner by those working on your behalf in Jordan. In the meantime, may God bless you and keep you well. You are in our prayers.

Sandy and all your friends at St. Monica's 

March 2017

Salam alaykom to our dear Alrayes Family,

You have been in my thoughts a lot lately, as I prepared to write this letter. We have all heard the wonderful news that the application process has passed through The Canadian and Quebec governments and is now in the hands of the Jordanian Government. Although it might not go as fast as we'd like, we know that this final step will soon lead you to us.

As Canadians we are often teased as a nation as to not having a national identity because our population is so diverse and the country so big that it is hard to find common characteristics among Canadians. There is however one thing that does unite us, and that is our pride in being able to survive our long cold winters. March 20th is officially the first day of spring, but it often takes our weather system longer to thaw...In fact since last week the city of Montreal, has been digging itself out of a record snowfall. The photos I am sending are the results of that snowstorm, schools and airports were closed for the day, most people stayed home from work if they could. The city practically came to a standstill. I personally enjoyed the excuse to stay home from work and play with my son in the snow. If you have the right clothing, and we will make sure that you do, the winter can be a beautiful season.

We would like to wish Mariam a belated happy birthday, we wish her much happiness.

Our whole community continues to pray for your wellbeing and your safe arrival.

Wishing you much health and happiness,

Melissa and your friends from St. Monica's

February 2017

Dear Alrayes Family,

Greetings from Montreal, where we are now emerging from a snowy winter. I have not included any photos in this letter, as this is far from the most attractive time of year in this city. As I write, the day is grey, rainy and dark.  Due to recent unusually warm days (10 to 15 degrees Celsius), the snowbanks that have lined our roads, yards and sidewalks are beginning to recede. Sadly, our once white and sparking snow is now looking pretty dirty and the thaw has revealed all the grit spread on the roads and sidewalks to prevent falls and skidding cars. Not a very pretty sight. 

However, these are small things to complain about compared to our many advantages and blessings. Spring will come again, bringing sunny days, green leaves and flowers, as it has since the world began.

I imagine you are aware of the good news. We have recently learned that your application has been approved by the Government of Canada and has been forwarded back to Jordan, presumably for final processing. This means that your application is making good progress and the time of your arrival here in Montreal is moving closer. We are very cheered by this news as, I am sure, you are.

   As you may know, Canada has already welcomed a large number of refugees from your part of the world. More, including your family, will be on their way in the coming months. Those who have arrived appear to be making a successful transition to life in this country. As you can well imagine, for this to be accomplished in an orderly and successful way, a lot of work and preparation has to be done. I am sure this accounts for the delays which you and we, your friends and sponsors at St Monica's, have found so slow and frustrating.

But, as we say, "there is a light at the end of the tunnel", by which we mean that better times are on their way and have moved a little bit closer.

And finally, a happy belated birthday to Abeer! She is growing from being a girl into a young woman. We all look forward to meeting her and all of you before too, too long.

Best wishes and blessings on you all, especially Abeer who has just turned 14.

Sandy Shea for all the members of your sponsorship team at St Monica's

December 2016

Dear Alrayes Family,

Hello again from your friends here in Montreal! As usual, I have included some photos of everyday life here. As you can see, winter has arrived, along with a good deal of snow and cold weather. Most of us find the first snow of the winter welcome and pretty to look at....but when it goes away in late March (as it usually does), we are all very happy to see it go.   

The two pictures are of my husband demonstrating how an average man dresses for winter here. The photo in which he is wearing the short brown jacket shows what he would wear on a fairly mild day. In extra cold weather, he would wear the red jacket on top of that and change the white hat for the warmer black one.  Thick boots and gloves complete this so-called “fashionable” winter outfit. Dressing like this is very effective in making being outdoors quite comfortable.  What women and children wear is similar, but not identical.

These photos were taken from our back porch overlooking a typical Montreal back yard. The strange little green, snow-covered boxes hanging in the background are bird feeders. Feeding those birds who are kind enough to remain with us during the winter is a thing many of us like to do.

Thank you for your latest letter. I particularly noted your mention of missing the beauty of nature in your current situation. All too often in our busy lives, we in Canada forget to notice how very beautiful the world around us can be. We can only try to imagine how it must feel to be in your situation. The news about the Syrian—and worldwide-- refugee situation, which we see every night on television these days, shows very clearly how difficult it is to be where you are. What I will say is that we in Canada are painfully aware of your suffering and a great many of us are doing what we can. We are only ordinary citizens, not powerful, important people, but what we can at least do, in this free and (mostly) good country, is contact our Members of Parliament urging them to speed up the approval process for families like yours. Our level of frustration cannot compare to yours, but it is nonetheless sincere.

Meanwhile, all of us at St Monica’s are getting ready for Christmas. Too often, it is a busy time with too much rush and concern for shopping. But it is also, for observant Christians, a deeply joyous and important religious celebration.  And for everyone, the twinkling outdoor lights in the snowy dark, the music, the Christmas trees and the effort to be kind and generous at this season are reasons to be glad. Once again, be assured, we are thinking of you and praying for you and we are committed to your cause. When you do finally get here, we will be here to help you. Melissa will be writing to you in January. We hope to hear back from you as well.

Sandy Shea   (for all the members of St Monica Refugee committee)

November 2016

Dear Alrayes Family,

Thank you so much for your letter with photos of your family and news of your situation. We were all distressed to hear of all your suffering and difficulties. We live in hope and pray that things will improve for you.

I found it especially sad to hear about your older son's not being able to go to school. Once you get here that can be remedied.

All the colourful fall leaves you saw in Melissa's photos and letter have now fallen. The trees are now bare and the hours of daylight are growing shorter day by day. By 5 PM it is dark and the sun does not come back before 7AM. All the summer birds have flown south.  Yesterday we got our first snowfall and the colder months are now beginning.

Most Canadians do not mind the winter. We dress warmly, keep moving and enjoy winter activities. Some of us go south with the birds for a few weeks, if we can. All the same, once spring comes in April----once the longer daylight hours reappear along with green growth and warmer weather, no one is happier than we Canadians.

I may be mistaken but it seems to me that, if Ramadan arrives during the shorter hours of daylight, the hours of fasting for the Muslim Canadians among us is also reduced. That would make the long winter a little easier, I imagine!

All of us here at St Monica's continue to hold you all in our hearth and prayers. We are not going to forget you and we look forward to the day when we meet in person.

Sandy Shea and all your friends at St Monica's

October 2016

Dear Alrayes family,

Salaam Aleykoum.

How are you all doing? 

We hope that the financial support that we were able to send from the people of St. Monica's parish has helped make your circumstances a little more comfortable. We continue to pray for your welfare and for the efficiency of the administrative process that will bring you safely to us.

I have a paper here with your photographs, and it made me think that maybe it would be nice for you to have a photo of me and my family too, so you know who is writing to you. I am sending you a photograph of my husband Robert, myself and our son George who is 2.5 years old. The other two boys in the photograph are my nephews, Nelson and Edmond. It was taken during a recent apple-picking outing, a ritual around here in September and October when families go out to the countryside to pick apples directly from the trees (a novelty for city people!). 

I have to say that the autumn is my favourite season, where the trees turn orange, yellow and red. I am including a few of those photos as well. And a photo of a sunrise that I took recently while visiting a friend's cottage by a lake. I share these photos with you knowing that you and the whole family will soon be able to witness them yourselves.

If it is possible, please write to Sandy and I with whatever questions you may have, or by telling us a little about what your life is like in Jordan, so that we may continue to support you in the most effective way.

May you be safe and healthy and able to make the journey to Canada soon.

Your in our prayers, Melissa, and your friends at St. Monica's.

A letter from the Alrayes family in response to letters sent to them by Sandy Shea and Melissa Holland

The green trees in the photos you sent made us feel optimistic and motivated because it's been a while since we have seen real nature and green trees, since we were in Syria. Because in Syria we used to see these sights. We miss it a lot and that is why we feel sad and not happy as we still cannot cope with life in Jordan.

Thanks for the lovely photo of the family that gave us hope and motivation that our life will be better soon. We wish to meet you all soon and thanks to everyone who is trying their best to draw a smile on our children’s faces even with a photo.

Our older daughter Abeer, is not happy at all and she is suffering as she wants her friends in Syria and misses them a lot and she feels so lonely.

Our 2nd daughter Mariam, she is always afraid of the dark, or any noise like fireworks, car horns, and any loud voices due to what she faced in Syria.

The young boy, Yousef, he never got the chance to live his life like any normal kid. He can't have anything in his life, he can't play, he doesn't have a real home to feel safe in and free from any negative life atmosphere energy due to our arguments and bad living situation here in Jordan.

The older son is Ziyad. He left school in order to work and help in paying the house rent, and he can't have any of his simplest life rights as a teenager. He feels responsible for us and he wishes to go back to school to his friends. He is very depressed due to what he witnessed in Syria of seeing the dead bodies in the streets and all the blood and dead people’s pieces.

September 2016

Dear Al Rayes Family,

Hello again from your sponsoring group at St. Monica's Church! My name is Sandy and I will be writing to you on alternate months with Melissa from whom you have already had a letter.

We are disappointed, as are you without a doubt, over the long wait before you arrive here with us in Montreal. The required paperwork is frustratingly slow and we wish it were otherwise. We do hope that the money we have been able to send you for schooling and medical attention is making your circumstances a little easier while you wait.

Once again, best birthday wishes to Ziad. Hopefully, we will all celebrate his next birthday here in Canada

All that said, one happy day you will eventually be with us here in Montreal. This will be a big change for you all ---many new things to adjust to and understand---but we will be here to help. This is a big city and a busy one, shared by people from all over the world: a great variety of nationalities, religions and cultures. You will not be the only newcomers in this city. All are welcome.  One thing I am sure you will be thankful for is the peace and security, something we who are born here all too often take for granted. We should not. It is a great blessing and one which we will be happy to share with you.

I am sending three photos, taken in our neighbourhood that may give you a little idea of how the city looks and things that are available here. The first is of a large supermarket specializing in Middle Eastern food and products. The the others are of a regular grocery store and one of St Monica's Church, of which we are all members.

In the meantime, be assured that you all remain in our thoughts and prayers and we will be here to welcome you when you finally do arrive.

From Sandy and all your friends at St Monica's.

August 2016

Dear Al Rayes Family,

I am honoured to write to you today on behalf of the people of St. Monica's Catholic Church in Montreal. We want you to know that we are holding you in our thoughts and prayers as we begin the process of sponsoring you to come to Canada. 

We know a little bit about you, we have your photos and names and ages. And we see that it is Ziad Ziad's birthday on August 25th! He will be 14? Ziad Ziad, we wish you a very happy birthday and we wish you lots of love, strength, courage and happiness.

We imagine that you must have many questions for us, about Canada, and Montreal in particular. Please don't hesitate to ask us anything.

I will say a little bit about our neighbourhood in Montreal, its called Notre-dame de Grace (NDG) for short. It is a nice place to raise a family, with lots of schools, parks and big green trees. It takes about 30 min. to get to the center of the city (downtown) by bus or metro, or bixi (which are bicycles you can rent. I have enclosed a photo of bixis under some big green trees.)

In Montreal most people speak French and a minority of us speak English. It will be good for you to learn both eventually, but more useful to start with French...

I am enclosing in an attachment two photos of the group of us at St. Monica's that are actively coordinating your arrival here. We look forward to that very much. In the meantime, we will be happy to write you emails and stay in touch through Hady. I will write to you once every two months and Sandy will write the other months. (Sandy is the woman sitting in the front with the red shirt, necklace and glasses. In the 2nd photo I am the one in the back row on the right with the red shirt.)

Best wishes to all of you, Ziad Khalil, Eman, Abeer, Ziad, Ziad, Mariam and Yousef

From Melissa and your friends at St. Monica's.