Innisfail opens heart to Syrian refugees


Our Lady of Peace Church sponsoring Syrian refugee family and more may be coming

Innisfail is joining communities across Canada to welcome Syrian refugees.

Parishioners at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church have opened their hearts to sponsor a refugee family from Syria, and there may be more coming.

“I put it to a few parishioners to see how they felt about it and everybody felt very strongly that it would be a good idea if we looked into it,” said Virginia Ritson-Benett. “Paulette Johnson, manager of Refugee and Immigration Services with the Catholic Social Services (CSS) in Edmonton, came and spoke to us in September.”

The Syrian refugee family is one of thousands expected to arrive in Canada by next spring. Last week, the Liberal government in Ottawa announced a delay in resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees, in light of recent terror attacks in Paris and security threats around Europe.

The federal government will now take in 10,000 Syrian refugees by Dec. 31 and the remainder are expected to arrive by March 2016.

Alberta is one of several provinces that will welcome Syrian refugees this year. The cities of Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Red Deer are all planning for the influx of refugees, expected in the coming weeks.

The Central Alberta Refugee Effort (C.A.R.E), part of Red Deer’s Immigrant Centre, is working with Catholic Social Services to help settle 200 Syrian refugees in Red Deer by the end of the year.

Other groups in Innisfail are also stepping up to help Syrian refugees.

The Innisfail Ministerial Association would like to work together with other churches in town to sponsor a Syrian refugee family as well.

“I have asked the pastors to refer names of people within their churches who would be willing to be on an organizing committee to get something underway,” said pastor Kathy Calkins of Peace Lutheran Church in Innisfail. “The Innisfail Ministerial Association is in the organizing yet hopeful stages at this point. For us, it is an expression of our faith and of God’s love and welcome for all people of the world, but it is not work we do alone. We are looking for anyone who is interested.”

A total of 12 parishioners with Our Lady of Peace Church have volunteered to sit on a committee to help coordinate efforts in resettling a Syrian refugee family here. A date has not yet been set for the family’s arrival.

“You’re responsible for them for a year,” Ritson-Bennett said of the private sponsorship. “There’s certain criteria you have to meet as far as funding for them (per month), and you have to provide and make sure that they have housing,” she explained.

According to the Canadian (Immigration and Refugee) resettlement assistance program, the minimum amount required to sponsor a refugee family of four is $20,000 a year or $1,650 per month.

Unlike government-sponsored Syrian refugees, where 50 per cent of the cost is covered, a private sponsor must provide 100 per cent of funds needed ($20,000 per year for a family of four). Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church is fundraising the entire amount, noted Ritson-Bennett.

The prospective Syrian refugee family for Innisfail that Our Lady of Peace is sponsoring includes a mother, father and two children – a six-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy. They are currently living in a refugee camp in Lebanon.

At the moment there are no further details available, said Ritson-Bennett.

“In this instance we gave the government a name of a family that are in a refugee camp in Lebanon. It may take longer (for them to arrive in Innisfail) because they haven’t been processed,” she added. “We were told it could take anywhere from six months to a year initially, but now that has all changed (since the federal election).”

Once details are confirmed, noted Ritson-Bennett, they will move forward with planning and logistics.

“As soon as they (CSS) get a definite answer as to what’s going on with this specific family, they will let us know,” said Ritson-Bennett, adding that they will need to collect household furniture, clothing, food and other necessities prior to the family’s arrival.

Several other Catholic churches across Central Alberta are considering sponsoring a Syrian refugee family as well, including those in Hinton, Trochu and Rocky Mountain House.

For more information, to donate or to volunteer, contact pastor Kathy Calkins at: 587-877-1399 or via email or Virginia Ritson-Bennett at 403-227-3247.

For more refugee coverage see page 21.

Pastor Kathy Calkins

“The Innisfail Ministerial Association are in the organizing yet hopeful stages at this point. For us, it is an expression of our faith and of God’s love and welcome for all people of the world.”


About Author

Kristine Jean

Kristine Jean is a reporter with the Innisfail Province, joining the newspaper in 2015. She covers Penhold municipal politics, news and community events as well as sports in and around the town as well as in Innisfail.