On Thursday evening, April 6, Archbishop Christian Lépine welcomed refugee families from Syria, Eritrea and South Sudan, accompanied by their sponsors, to a fraternal gathering at the downtown office of the Archdiocese of Montreal.
Father Paternieri, the Director of the Office of Cultural and Ritual Communities at the Archdiocese of Montreal, and his stalwart assistant, Alessandra Santopadre, planned and coordinated this long and arduous process of hosting refugees.
The families, refugees from Syria, Eritrea and South Sudan, who were gathered together yesterday evening, with their infants and teenagers, had requested to meet Archbishop Lépine, stating, "We don't know the person who allowed our lives to be saved."
Father Paternieri, of Italian origin, born in France, and therefore an immigrant, was compelled to say that, with Easter approaching, it has been difficult not to imagine that Syrian families have been undergoing a "passion of Christ for more than six years now. We must put words into action, and that is what our Church has decided to do."
Alessandra Santopadre, who had greeted all these families at the airport, said that there is still work to be done: "The refugees that are here were fortunate to enter the country before our government decided to close its doors. 9,500 cases are still sitting on government desks, and it is believed that these people will not be arriving in Quebec until 2021... I would like to thank Most Reverend Lépine for making special funds available for these families, and for writing the letter that was published in the media a few months ago - this has helped the cause of the refugees greatly.
Archbishop Lépine stated that Jesus' words were at the root of every action "... just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Mat 25:40). One certainty remains more deep-seated than any of our differences: we are human beings.
Montreal welcomes people from all over, and this is what our country was built on. 30 years ago, we welcomed the boat people, and today, I have a dentist who is Vietnamese. We open our doors to others, and it is we who then reap the rewards. We will grow together. Don't ever think that you are any trouble. Ever."
In 2016, 158 cases were submitted by the Archdiocese of Montreal: 113 for Syria, 2 for Afghanistan, 22 for Burundi and 21 for Eritrea. Only 18 families have been hosted thus far. In 2017, 125 cases were submitted: 97 for Syria, 9 for Afghanistan, 7 for Eritrea, 6 for Burundi and 6 for Iraq. Up to now, 19 families have arrived in Canada.