On April 6 at Our Lady of Haiti Parish, Archbishop Christian Lépine welcomed diocesan-sponsored refugee families to a time of fellowship and sharing.
“You are a gift to our society, you are not a threat.”
When Msgr. Pierre Blanchard said these words in a Montreal North church basement, all of the noise and whispering that usually accompanies ceremonial speeches stopped immediately.
“I too sometimes hear these types of remarks; remarks that are not always positive about refugees”, said the Montreal Archdiocese episcopal vicar for cultural and ritual Communities at the beginning of this annual celebration that was held on Saturday April 6, 2019 at Notre-Dame-d'Haïti church.
“I want you all to know that this is your home. It is a gift to have you with us. You are a gift because of who you are, because of your talents, your traditions and your values,” he added, addressing the 150 refugees and their sponsors who were in attendance to share a meal that showcased food from the countries they had left.
Dieudonné Nintunze was among the participants, having traveled from Trois-Rivières to accompany Chéris Ory Arakaza, a young refugee who arrived in Montreal less than two months ago. Threatened and imprisoned in his home country of Burundi, he was able to find refuge in Rwanda in 2015.
“But even in Rwanda, he did not feel safe. And so we tried to find a way to bring him to Canada. And God helped us”, said Dieudonné Nintunze. “We found a way through the Archdiocese of Montreal, who supported us throughout the process.”
Like all of the sponsors at this celebration, Dieudonné Nintunze had only positive things to say about Alessandra Santopadre, director of the Montreal Archdiocese sponsorship program for refugees and asylum seekers. “She encouraged us, and deals with the governments”, he added.
Before blessing the meal that was to be shared by all who were present, Montreal’s Archbishop Christian Lépine mentioned that the Archdiocese of Montreal has been participating in programs to welcome refugees and immigrants since 1980. “We began modestly. But it has grown according to the challenges of our society”, he said.
He then addressed the sponsors saying, “I would like to thank all those who participate in this welcoming work, this compassionate work. You open your doors but you also open your hearts”.
“Before me, there are Catholics, Muslims, Orthodox, and maybe even some atheists. Through our program, we help everyone because we are all human, all equal”, said Archbishop Lépine to enthusiastic applause.