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Churches raise funds for refugees

November 17th, 2015 · No Comments

Project Hope hits home for Bathurst Street parish

St. Peter’s Church (shown above) parishioners have to date raised $10,000 towards sponsoring a refugee family to come to Canada. Summer Reid, Gleaner News

St. Peter’s Church (shown above) parishioners have to date raised $10,000 towards sponsoring a refugee family to come to Canada. Summer Reid, Gleaner News

By Summer Reid

Local Roman Catholics are answering Pope Francis’s September call to European parishes in which he asked them to open their doors to Syrian refugees fleeing war-torn homes. Shortly after the Pope’s call, the Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins, launched Project Hope, a refugee resettlement campaign that aims to raise $3 million in 100 days to bring 100 families to Canada and to settle them within the region of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

“All we want to do is help people get out of Syria,” said Reverend Michael McGourty, the pastor of St. Peter’s Church on Bathurst Street, north of Bloor Street West. “It does not matter what religion they are, we just want to keep them safe.”

“We figure it costs about $30,000 to sponsor a family for one year,” he added, explaining that the 220 parishes across the archdiocese are working together to address the crisis. “If a church such as St. Peter’s, which is in a great neighbourhood and in a perfect position to get refugees set up with health benefits and language classes, does not have the financial resources to sponsor a family, they can partner with another parish that may not have these benefits and pool their funds with one another.”

McGourty said his parish is working with the Office of Refugees for the Archdiocese of Toronto (ORAT), which, according to an ORAT press release, is prioritizing “families coming from war-torn countries. These include Syria and Iraq where we have set up hundreds of families to date.”

“We can’t send people into Syria because it’s too dangerous,” said McGourty. “[But ORAT] has sent a team of people to Jordan, to one of the refugee camps, where there are families that are already out of Syria, but unfortunately they are trapped in refugee camps and they have nowhere to go. So the teams have gone over to try and identify families that we can help and bring them over as quickly as we can. We’re hoping that the process will be sped up by the fact that we’ve made contact with them directly.”

The term “refugee” has been muddled for a very long time; a lot of people assume that an immigrant and a refugee are the same thing. However, the 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as someone who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to, avail himself of the protection of that country.”

So far, St. Peter’s alone has raised around $10,000 to sponsor just such a family.

Local parishioner Sheila Conlin is part of the 12-member committee that is working with the local parish to help sponsor a family. She explained that the committee is just getting started, but they are looking forward to helping those in need.

“I think we’ve been given so much here in Canada, our parishioners want to be able to reach out and to help people who are in need,” said McGourty. “[The call] came around Thanksgiving, and this was a way that we could show our own thanks for all that we’ve been given.”

St. Thomas’s Anglican Church on Huron Street, which sponsored a family during the Vietnamese refugee crisis in the 1970s, is also raising funds to help sponsor a refugee family. On Nov. 20, it will host Voices of Refuge, a concert featuring six choirs that will be followed by a reception featuring soups from Soups for Syria, a fundraising cookbook raising money for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees that collects soup recipes from international chefs and food writers.

Voices of Refuge will be held on Nov. 20 at St. Thomas’s Church at 383 Huron St. at 7:30 pm; admission is free with donation. For further information on Project Hope, or to make a donation, please visit www.archtoronto.org.

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